Report credits $385 billion economy boost to Interior

Jul 20, 2012

From facilitating energy development to managing America’s public lands for tourism and outdoor recreation to assisting Indian tribes with education and economic growth, the activities of the Department of the Interior (Interior) contributed $385 billion to the U.S. economy and supported more than 2 million jobs in 2011, according to a report released earlier in the month.

The report, The Department of the Interior’s Economic Contributions, highlights the impacts of the department’s broad mission, including land and water management; energy and mineral development on public lands; encouraging tourism and outdoor recreation at national parks, monuments and refuges; wildlife conservation, hunting and fishing; support for American Indian tribal communities and Insular Areas; and scientific research and innovation.

The department manages 500 million U.S. acres, mostly in the west, and encompasses everything from the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) to the unknown Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement.

Prepared by Interior’s Office of Policy Analysis, the report underscores the findings of other studies on the economic impacts of Interior lands and programs, according to a release from the department.

A report recently released by the Outdoor Industry Association showed that 140 million Americans spent $646 billion on hunting, fishing, hiking, and other outdoor recreation on public and private lands, including on the 500 million acres of public lands managed by Interior agencies.

“This report underscores that there are real, lasting impacts on communities and small businesses across the country where Interior is helping to strengthen economies and support families,” Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar said in a news release.

While the report has lots of merits, it still may be missing some key pieces, according to Dustin Van Liew, executive director of the Public Lands Council.

“While we are not convinced that DOI has fully captured the economic importance of grazing on BLM lands with this report, we are appreciative of their response to our concerns regarding their previous, deeply flawed report released in 2011. That reported cited grazing as having contributed just 0.2 percent of all the jobs generated by Interior activities in 2010—only 2,507 direct jobs in total—and only $0.64 billion in economic impact. After industry pointed out the flaws to their method and requested a correction, DOI released a greatly improved report for 2011. This report shows grazing contributed $1.41 billion in economic impact and 16,954 jobs. While this jobs number is an improvement, we remain skeptical, as there exist over 18,000 BLM permittees. Meanwhile, the agency continues to put undue focus on recreation and tourism and use unverifiable means of deriving its economic impact figures,” Van Liew said in a statement to WLJ.

The report and press release are touting all the benefits and crediting lots of “pats on the back” to the Obama admin- istration during this very politically charged presidential campaign, which has some groups eager to point out the flaws.

According to an oil and natural gas industry group, most of the Interior’s claimed totals contained in the report are due to the oil and gas industry.

“By lumping all energy sources to- gether in the executive summary and throughout the document, the true contribution of the oil and natural gas industry is not readily apparent,” said Kathleen Sgamma, vice president of government and public affairs for the industry group Western Energy Alliance, in a news release. Sgamma questioned the entirety of the Interior report, claiming oil and gas contributions provide two-thirds of the economic output and support just more than half the jobs.

“This is not value generated by the government; it’s the result of private sector investment, technical innovation, and productive activity on public lands,” she said. The report contains a brief breakdown of tribal economic development that says BIA, the Bureau of Indian Education and the Office of Indian Energy and Economic Development contributed “around

$12 billion in economic output” and supported “nearly 126,000 jobs through activities on tribal lands (including oil, gas, coal, other minerals, timber, irrigation, and grazing).” It says that other support for tribal governments, through loan guarantees and other aid, contributed about $1.2 billion in economic output and supports around 9,500 additional jobs.

That portion of the July 9 report has tribal leaders questioning the validity. One week before the report came out, Interior sent a letter to tribes indicating that it had failed to collect tribal labor force data for the second time since 2007, which violates the requirements of the Indian Employment, Training and Related Services Demonstration Act of 1992.

This particular portion brings into question the validity of the report. If the Interior did not rely on tribes for this sec- tion, where did the information come from?

“The Interior Department has a uniquely diverse mission that benefits the American people by promoting tour- ism, outdoor recreation, energy development and other economic activities that fuel local economies,” Salazar said in a prepared statement. “This report under-

scores that there are real, lasting impacts on communities and small businesses across the country where Interior is helping to strengthen economies and support families.” — Traci Eatherton, WLJ Editor