Federally owned and operated public lands are distributed across the U.S., with the highest concentration in the western states. ‘Public lands’ is an inclusive term that refers to forests, deserts, prairies, and bodies of water — including oceans, rivers, streams, and lakes. Over 90% of this land is administered by four agencies: the Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management, the Fish and Wildlife Service, and the National Park Service. The Forest Service is a part of the Department of Agriculture; the others are under the Department of the Interior. Offshore leases are administered by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, also under the Department of the Interior.
The U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, Fish and Wildlife Service, and State Fish and Game Departments are examples of public trustee agencies. Trustees are charged with managing the public property assigned to them in order to provide the benefits required by owners and beneficiaries.
The Department of the Interior and the agencies within its jurisdiction oversee public lands and waters, and offer fossil fuels on public lands for development by private and publicly-traded corporations for private profit.
Energy companies can gain access to federally held fossil fuels at a reduced rate — lower than fuels on private or state-held lands. Energy companies with annual revenues of billions of dollars pay nominal fees to public lands agencies through lease bids, rent, and royalties. Corporations can lease public land for oil and gas drilling for as little as two dollars per acre.