During the COVID-19 pandemic, Senator Steve Daines is calling for suspended royalty payments from oil and gas companies, even though the bailout he is supporting would do “nothing but cheat the American taxpayer.” At the same time, the senator has refused to condemn Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s suggestion that states and cities should go bankrupt rather than receive more assistance.
Once again, Daines is endorsing terrible, unjust policy that will hurt Montana, perhaps best explained by the nearly $900,000 Daines has taken in campaign contributions from the oil and gas industry.
On March 30, Daines and eleven other Republican Senators sent a letter to Interior Secretary David Bernhardt (himself a former oil and gas company lobbyist) asking him to “reduce, delay, or suspend” federal royalty payments for oil, gas, and coal. Those royalties, of course, flow back to the states to pay for schools and vital infrastructure like roads, as the Huffington Post notes on March 24.
Daines might try to suggest that the suspension of royalties is warranted given the economic climate, but, unlike other industries facing closures due to government orders, that isn’t the case for these companies:
While the GOP members argue the industry is not looking for a bailout, critics say that’s exactly what they’re asking for — all amid a crisis that isn’t directly impacting mineral extraction.
“Americans are dying, health care workers are putting their lives on the line, and these twelve senators are spending their time trying to get oil and coal companies out of paying royalties? It’s embarrassing and irresponsible,” said Matt Lee-Ashley, a senior fellow at the left-leaning Center for American Progress.
Democrats on the House Committee on Natural Resources, in their own letter to Secretary Bernhardt, argued that the proposed royalty freeze was little more than a giveaway to oil and gas companies:
“Cutting oil and gas royalties in a time of national crisis is nothing more than a callous favor to one of the world’s most profitable industries at a time when millions of Americans are out of work and fearing for their health and safety.
They note that it would be bad policy leaving American taxpayers holding the bag for lost revenue:
Legal considerations aside, reducing oil and gas industry royalties is entirely unnecessary. It would do nothing but cheat the American taxpayer of potentially billions of dollars in revenue that will be needed to help struggling workers, rebuild stockpiles of medical supplies, and recover from the current crisis.”
And it’s not just the left opposing the idea of royalty relief. The Washington Examiner reports that the Trump administration rejected the proposal.
Worse yet, is that the royalty freeze Daines called for could deprive Montana of revenue at a time when the state is likely to face severe fiscal problems related to COVID-19. In 2018, Montana received over $26 million in mineral royalties, money that will matter far more to Montana taxpayers than the oil and gas producers Daines want to enrich.
It’s not hard to see, however, why Senator Daines would be so eager to put the interests of these corporations ahead of the interests of the people of Montana. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Daines has taken almost $900,000 from the oil and gas industry as a candidate.
And while Senator Daines is using his clout in the Senate to fight for oil and gas companies and to enrich himself as a real estate developer, he’s been silent about Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s suggestion that states should declare bankruptcy rather than receive more aid from the federal government.
When asked about McConnell’s idea and the potential for more aid, Senator Daines refused to comment:
If the Senate returns the week of May 4, pressure is bound to grow on senators — particularly vulnerable Republicans facing reelection — to back further aid. On Friday, aides to several Republicans facing reelection bids — Sens. Thom Tillis of North Carolina, Steve Daines of Montana and Cory Gardner of Colorado — did not respond or declined to comment about whether their bosses back additional aid to states and cities.
It’s hard not to give Daines credit for one thing here: during an election season, he’s showing us just who he is. It’s hardly surprising that the errand boy for Greg Gianforte in Montana and the Chinese government in the Senate is acting as the errand boy for oil and gas companies and Majority Leader McConnell today.
Montana can do better.