The Environment and Your Tax Dollars

Pandemic Diary Entry # 66

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Image by Comfreak from Pixabay

November 16, 2020

On October 28th the Washington Post ran an article titled Trump to strip protections from Tongass National Forest, one of the biggest intact temperate rainforests.

While horrifying, it did not surprise me, he has been working as hard as he can to destroy our environment, but in the middle of the article was a statement that did shock me. It was this, “Logging in Alaska costs U.S. taxpayers millions each year, because of a long-standing federal mandate that companies profit from any timber sale.”

That is correct, the lumber companies are guaranteed a profit by government mandate. In 2019 alone the US Forest Service (USFS) lost 16.1 million dollars, on average the USFS has lost $44 million per year since 1980.

The USFS manages public lands, thinning forests through timber harvest helps to maintain them. The process to decide where to harvest is handled through the Gate System. The USFS has created a snoozer of a video explaining each step in the system if you are interested.

While one expects these processes to cost money, there are other things one doesn’t think of, such as the fact that the USFS often builds the roads for these private logging companies to aid in the harvesting.

After the USFS has done all of the work to determine where and how the timber is to be removed, then builds the roads, the logging companies harvest the wood and transport it to a sawmill. Once this is done the logging company pays the USFS a set price per board foot. The USFS uses these funds to maintain the forests, but now we as taxpayers are footing the bill for the deficit.

Timber prices fluctuate and losses have gone down in recent years, but that is not because the forest service has figured out how to make a higher profit it is because there has been a decreased demand for timber. Also in 2001, the Department of Agriculture adopted the Roadless Rule which prohibits old-growth logging and new road construction as well as reconstruction in inventoried roadless areas within national forests.

However, in the ruling about the Tongass National Forest, which is our countries largest National Forest, USDA Secretary Perdue nixed the Roadless Rule in the decision to open the forest to increase logging.

A long and thoughtful article in Outdoor Life by Bjorn Dihle digs very deep into the damage this law will do to the environment to say nothing of the poll conducted by Trout Unlimited that found “79 percent of Alaskans (and the same percentage of Southeast Alaskans) prefer either keeping the Roadless Rule in place without change or making limited changes that include new protections for important fish and wildlife areas. Only 11 percent of statewide voters and 17 percent of Southeast Alaska voters prefer a full exemption.”

If the rapid destruction of the native habitats through logging does not sicken you, the fact that the federal government is losing money doing it, should.

This loss of taxpayer monies to large industries holds true for oil and gas companies as well.

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the Department of the Interior (DOI) manage oil and gas reserves that are owned by the federal taxpayers throughout the West.

According to Taxpayers for Common Sense, due to outdated and poor land-management policies, over the past decade U.S. taxpayers lost at least four billion dollars. The states are not faring any better. Wyoming alone lost two billion dollars in that same decade.

President Wilson signed the Mineral Leasing Act of 1920 into law and set the royalty rate for drilling for oil and gas on federal lands at 12.5 percent. Those rates have not changed, with the exception of the cost in federal waters when the Bush Administration raised those rates to 18.75 percent.

States and private individuals charge oil and gas companies royalty rates of up to 25 percent, although that hasn’t always worked out for the private sector either.

This disparity means that oil and gas companies are making a huge profit off of this low lease rate and you and I, as tax payers, are subsidizing the industry.

COVID has not helped. In April, the BLM issued guidance to operators of federal oil and gas leases stating that if a COVID relief application was approved, a federal lessee would be allowed to pay less than the statutory minimum 12.5 percent, for a period of up to 60 days. In Wyoming their rate was reduced to .5% a 96% reduction.

Farmers are another drain on our natural resources through poor government monetary mangagement. The Ogallala-High Plains Aquifer is one of the world’s largest groundwater sources, supporting 35 billion dollars in crop production each year. Farmers are draining it faster than it can be replenished and the tax payers are paying them to do it.

In Kansas, “Day Zero” — the day wells run dry — has arrived for about 30% of the aquifer. Within 50 years, the entire aquifer is expected be depleted by 70%. Presently farmers receive deductions for declining groundwater levels. They write off depreciation on irrigation equipment, which is a never ending proposition when one needs to drill deeper and deeper to find water. Amending our tax codes could help turn this broken system around.

There is no doubt the new administration will overturn Tongas National Forest ruling. And it is common knowledge that the United States has subsidized big business in myriads of ways, but as our infrastructure crumbles, and the economic divide grows deeper, it is time to examine how to stop this gross giveaway.

“These are federally owned assets, and we should be getting the most for them. We should be having competitive bidding, we should have royalty rates that keep pace, we should have inflation-adjusted rental rates and minimum bidding. We shouldn’t be just giving away the things we own.” — Taxpayers for Common Sense.

Trivial Things

San Francisco weather: 66 degrees and sunny

NYSE DOW compared to one year ago: +1446

COVID cases in the US: 11,372,904

Deaths from COVID in the US: 251,934

OED word of the day: fascine — ‘Military. A long, cylindrical bundle of twigs or brushwood, tightly bound together at short intervals; used for various purposes, such as the construction of defensive works, or the negotiation (now esp. by an armoured vehicle) of a ditch or other obstacle. Now chiefly: a similar bundle of plastic pipes

Days since Shelter In Place was initiated: 246

Reading: Eiffel’s Tower by Jill Jonnes

My Black and White Picture of the Day

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Something Silly From the Internet:

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My travel blog www.PassportandBaggage.com and my www.ArtandArchitecture-sf.com blog are quiet due to the Pandemic. I need to write, so here I go.

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