Capitol Alert

California attorney general takes on Big Oil in lawsuit against Trump administration

Attorney General Xavier Becerra gives his first press conference after he was sworn in as California attorney general in January. Becerra has sued the U.S. Department of the Interior.
Attorney General Xavier Becerra gives his first press conference after he was sworn in as California attorney general in January. Becerra has sued the U.S. Department of the Interior. hamezcua@sacbee.com

California and New Mexico are suing the Trump administration to get the federal government to enforce rules requiring companies to pay royalties on oil, gas and coal extracted from taxpayer-owned public lands.

State Attorney General Xavier Becerra, and New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas filed a lawsuit Wednesday against the Department of the Interior, which is responsible for management and conservation on federal lands. It alleges the department and a division within it, the Office of Natural Resources, illegally postponed a rule that requires energy companies to pay states royalties on oil, gas and coal extracted from federal and Native American lands.

“The Trump administration has once again displayed its disdain for playing by the rules,” Becerra said in a statement. “The winners here are the private mining interests that profit from paying less for our natural resources. The losers are – surprise, surprise – the American taxpayers.”

The federal lawsuit, filed in San Francisco, names Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and Gregory Gould, director of the Office of Natural Resources Revenue.

The rule went into effect on Jan. 1, which the lawsuit says was driven in part by U.S. coal industry practices of artificially depressing coal prices then selling to their own subsidiaries, requiring lower royalty payments.

In California, 15 percent of the state’s total land is managed by the federal government – 15.2 million acres of public lands and 592,000 acres of tribal lands, according to the lawsuit. There are 600 oil and gas production leases on that property.

Since 2008, California has received $82.5 million, on average, in royalty payments from federal mineral extraction within the state. The payments go into the state’s school fund, according to Becerra’s office.

Angela Hart: 916-326-5528, @ahartreports

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