AUSTIN - Consider this next time you pull up to the gas pump: While you wince at filling up with $4-a-gallon gas, your federal government is working hard to shut down oil production around the nation including here in Texas, the leading producer of domestic oil and gas. This folly is all because of a failed energy policy that finds reasons to discourage domestic production, while promising billions to develop production in countries like Brazil.
Here in Texas, the latest federal shackle comes in the form of a tiny lizard. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the sand dune lizard - also called the dunes sagebrush lizard (Sceloporus arenicolus) - is having a rough life thanks to the booming oil and gas production in West Texas. You see, this lizard - about the size of the Geico spokeslizard - likes to live among shinnery oak shrubs on sand dunes. Problem is, there are lots of these shrubs across southeast New Mexico and West Texas, where nearly a million barrels of oil are pumped every day in an effort to secure a safe supply of domestic energy.
So, the federal government wants to list this little lizard as endangered, thus entitling it to a host of regulatory protections and essentially putting a choke hold on oil and gas exploration and production.
With so much at stake, you might think the science behind such a decision would be extensive and conclusive. Think again. Before proposing to add the dunes sagebrush lizard to the endangered species list, federal biologists visited 27 different areas among the West Texas dunes. They found the lizard in three places. If they didn't find one within an hour, they considered it rare.
Bad science leads to bad policy. And that defines the current administration's domestic energy policy that seeks to close off more and more areas to oil and gas production. A policy which can be summed up as: "Not here."
Ready to explore for oil and gas off the Atlantic coast? "Not here" is the government's answer. What about the rich fields under federal waters in the Gulf of Mexico? "Not here." Federal waters off the West Coast? "Not here." The Rocky Mountains? "Not here." And we all know the answer about drilling in Alaska's abundant North Slope and Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR).
Now, thanks to this stealthy Texas lizard, the federal government can chalk up another victory against the domestic production of oil and gas.
But apart from stifling jobs and reducing domestic energy production, hamstringing the West Texas oil and gas industry will have another serious unintended consequence: It could cost Texas public schools and universities billions in lost royalties on oil and gas produced in West Texas.
Just this spring, private oil and gas companies paid the Permanent University Fund $250 million and the Permanent School Fund $108 million just for the chance to explore for oil and gas on state lands, primarily in West Texas. If these companies find oil, hundreds of millions more in oil and gas royalty income will roll in to state coffers for public education.
In the midst of a legislative session floundering for lack of school funding, the idea of shutting down the West Texas oil patch could not be more ludicrous.
As Texas Land Commissioner, I'm asking the federal government to take a harder look at the dunes sagebrush lizard. I've traveled the region and met with oil and gas producers as well as herpetologists. Just like they worked to protect the Kemp's ridley sea turtle on the shores of the Texas Gulf Coast, oil and gas producers want to help craft sensible conservation plans for the dunes sagebrush lizard.
The federal government doesn't need to save the dunes sagebrush lizard by killing the golden goose.
I'd call that a severe case of reptile dysfunction.
JERRY PATTERSON was re-elected to a third term as Texas Land Commissioner in 2010 and is responsible for managing billions of dollars of state assets, investments and mineral rights on behalf of the schoolchildren of Texas. He is a retired U.S. Marine, Vietnam veteran and former state senator.