By Deb Courson Smith, Big Sky Connection

Two Western members of Congress say more information is needed as Congress makes decisions about the federal budget, and about opening up more land in Montana and other states to mining and drilling, under the argument that it’s a good move for jobs and the economy.

Arizona Representative Raul Grijalva and Colorado Senator Tom Udall–both Democrats–have requested that the General Accounting Office provide numbers for mining on federal lands, most of which are in the West. Rep. Grijalva says we already know that hard-rock mining, including uranium, pays no federal royalties.

“How much has the taxpayer lost? How much is this land really worth? And what should be the parameters in the future in order to collect a fair return for the American taxpayer?”

Debate about fees and royalties features concerns from mining and drilling companies that if fees are too high, they’ll go to other countries or pass costs on to consumers.

Matt Garrington is deputy director of the Checks and Balances Project, a nonprofit group that tracks lobbying money. He says Montanans shouldn’t be fooled by those threats.

“The top five oil and gas companies raked in $67 billion in the first half of this year. They can absolutely afford to pay their fair share in royalties for the right to develop public lands.”

ExxonMobil is one of the top five.

Copper, oil, gas, coal, phosphate and gold are examples of minerals extracted from federal lands throughout the West that will be included in the report.