Shining the Light on Natural Resources on Public Lands

Michael Connor, Deputy Secretary, U.S. Department of the Interior

From the earliest creation of fire using wood and flint to the invention of the light bulb and the automobile, the harnessing of energy has enabled our survival and evolution.

Energy is the smartphone you are probably using right now. It is the streetlamps that light our streets. Energy heats our homes and mows our lawns. It is critical to every aspect of our daily lives—from the clothes we wear to the food we eat.

But it is also much more.

Energy is the cornerstone of our national security and our dependence on foreign sources can threaten that security, our environment and our economy. That is why so many presidents in the modern era, including President Obama, have placed such a heavy emphasis on home-grown energy production and why this administration has been hard at work reforming our domestic energy sector while creating a new energy frontier that responsibly develops conventional and renewable sources right here at home.

Today, 30% of our nation’s domestic energy resources are produced on public lands—lands that belong to all of us—and collectively, that production generates more than $10 billion annually for taxpayers. While it means that foreign dependence on energy is on the decline—and that is good news—it also means that government now has a greater responsibility to collect, document, report and audit how much energy we are producing on public lands and how much money is being generated from oil, gas, mining and renewable forms of the resource.

That is why on the first day of his first term, President Obama signed a Memorandum on Transparency and Open Government, which prioritized transparency and more responsive government here in the U.S. in order to strengthen our democracy, and promote efficiency and effectiveness in Government. Four years ago, President Obama underscored this commitment by joining seven other heads of state to launch the Open Government Partnership (OGP), a global partnership between governments and civil society to promote government transparency, empower citizens and fight corruption.

In just four short years, this partnership has grown nearly tenfold to 69 countries. Together we have made over 2,000 commitments to improve how governments serve more than 2 billion people worldwide, including our commitment to implement the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI).

As part of our EITI implementation, in 2014 we launched our first-ever public-centered data portal, and in December 2015 we built on that foundation to release the first USEITI Report. The on-line report uses an interactive portal to map payments to multiple layers of government by companies engaged in natural resource extraction on federal lands and waters. Beyond just numbers, it also tells the story about the U.S. extractive industry by showcasing contextual information about its development on a national and regional level. This extractive data storytelling includes twelve online case studies that provide a snapshot of communities that have led the U.S. in producing oil, gas, coal, gold, iron or copper over the last decade.

Additionally, we have increased our efforts to work collaboratively as we make decisions around natural resource management. Taking our obligation to public engagement seriously is improving our relationships with all stakeholders, including across all government entities responsible for oversight and enforcement, as well as externally with the public and regulated entities.

Just last week, I shared this story at a global conference in Lima, Peru along with Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Mary Warlick, our State Department lead for EITI and the U.S. representative on the EITI International Board. During the conference, we joined several other nations in discussing how we are forging ahead with efforts to increase transparency while maximizing public engagement surrounding governance of extractive industry revenues and activities.

The United States is at its best when we lead by example. We will continue to challenge ourselves and other nations to make specific commitments to promote transparency, fight corruption, and empower citizen engagement around the world. We know greater accountability and transparency works because better data, and enhanced public access to that data, means we can make better decisions that will result in stronger performance outcomes for industry, stakeholders, governments and taxpayers.

Group photo of the members of the U.S. EITI board
Fredric Reinfeldt - new chair of International EITI Board, with Jim Steward, Paul Mussenden, Judy Wilson, Greg Gould and Jerry Gidner
A group photo of men and women from the U.S. and Guyana delegation to the conference
Minister of Natural Resources of Guyana Raphael Trotman between U.S. Deputy Secretary of the Interior Mike Connor and Mary Warlick with other members of the U.S. and Guyana delegations