Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, May 24, 2017

Contact:  David Turnbull,
Steve Kretzmann,
Elizabeth A. Schuster, Food & Water Watch,
Taylor McKinnon, Center for Biological Diversity, (801) 300-2414,

Report: Taxpayers on Hook for Billions in Fossil Fuel Subsidies on Public Lands

Study Finds $7 Billion a Year in Subsidies, Tens of Billions in Liabilities

WASHINGTON— The U.S. government is providing extensive support for fossil fuel production on public lands and waters offshore, through direct subsidies, enforcement loopholes, lax royalty collection, stagnant lease rates and other advantages to the industry, a new report released today finds.

The U.S. government is providing at least $7 billion a year in subsidies to support fossil fuel production on federal lands and offshore waters, and is holding some $35 billion in public liabilities for drilling in public waters of the Gulf of Mexico, the report shows. These subsidies support increased fossil fuel production on U.S. lands and waters and are out of step with efforts to meet international climate objectives.

The report, released by Oil Change International in partnership with, WildEarth Guardians, the Center for Biological Diversity, Clean Water Action, Food & Water Watch, and Public Citizen, for the first time outlines in detail the subsidies and other public support being provided in the United States to the fossil fuel industry for its activities on public lands. Titled Unequal Exchange: How Taxpayers Shoulder the Burden of Fossil Fuel Development on Federal Lands, the report can be found here.

The report presents an accounting of the minimum amounts of direct taxpayer dollars that support fossil fuels on public lands, not including externalities such as climate and health impacts, which would bring the totals even higher. If those factors are taken into account, for example, mining coal in Wyoming's Powder River Basin alone would have a net cost to the U.S. public of roughly $17.8 billion a year.

“Rex Tillerson and other members of the Trump administration deny that these subsidies even exist just like they deny climate change. The reason is clear — in both cases, if you admit the truth the only answer is a managed decline of the fossil fuel industry,” said Stephen Kretzmann, executive director of Oil Change International. “The first step towards that is to stop supporting the industry with our public dollars. These subsidies are a raw deal for American taxpayers, and a disaster for our climate.”

Particularly notable is a finding that some royalty and lease rates for fossil fuel development on public lands have remained unchanged since the 1920s.

The report also makes a number of key recommendations, including the phaseout of fossil fuel leasing on public lands. Until that happens, the report recommends immediate action to reduce large, unfunded liabilities for U.S. taxpayers associated with fossil fuel production on public lands should be reduced and royalty and lease rates should be increased to better reflect the full costs of these activities.

“As if simply allowing the toxic, climate-killing extraction of fossil fuels on our sensitive public lands isn't shameful enough, that the federal government actually subsidizes this foolish activity with taxpayer money is downright absurd,” said Wenonah Hauter, executive director at Food & Water Watch. “For the sake of climate stability, the transition to a clean energy future must begin immediately. An ideal place to kick-start the transition is with a ban on fossil fuel extraction on our precious public lands, and most certainly, a halt to the underhanded propping up of this antiquated industry with our precious public dollars.”

“The oil and gas industry's quest for energy dominance is only viable if they are given billions in taxpayer subsidies. This mature industry is happy to accept tax relief and other special treatment in order to balance their own books, but they will vigorously deny responsibility for the true costs of their operations. Something doesn't add up,” said John Noël, national oil and gas campaigns coordinator at Clean Water Action.

“Federal subsidies for oil, gas and coal underwrite coastal flooding, severe drought and wildlife extinction,” said Taylor McKinnon with the Center for Biological Diversity. “In an era of worsening climate change, fossil fuel subsidies are disastrous public policy.”

“This report makes it clear as day that the Trump agenda is the fossil fuel billionaire agenda. The industry finances corrupt politicians who in turn help them keep fossil fuels economically viable at a time when the science suggests most oil gas and coal needs to be kept in the ground. They set out to rig the system and they succeeded. History will judge them harshly,” said Jason Kowalski, policy director at

Read the full report:

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.3 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

More press releases