Many people are aware that oil, gas and coal companies lease public lands from the federal government. What most taxpayers don’t realize is that the richest, most powerful corporations in the fossil fuel industry are paying next to nothing for the privilege of ripping our collective resources out of the ground and selling them to us at exorbitant prices. At the same time, burning those fuels is responsible for 25% of all greenhouse emissions in the US.

It is true that during the fiscal year 2014, the Federal government reaped a tidy $13 billion from energy company leases on public lands – which in terms of sales value, were worth nearly six-and-a-half times that amount. When the numbers are crunched, it turns out that corporations like obscenely wealthy Exxon-Mobil and criminal polluter BP are paying as little as $2 an acre. It’s corporate welfare at its most egregious – and at the same time, it’s threatening our very existence on planet Earth.

It is also true that several oil and coal-producing Western states, such as Wyoming, North Dakota and Texas charge energy companies significantly more for such leases. Amazingly, the Lone Star State charges the oil industry twice as much as the federal government. It’s still not enough. According to a report from the Center for Western Priorities, Wyoming, North Dakota and Texas are losing out on as much as $600 million a year because the federal government insists on spoiling the fossil fuel industry.

While the cost of a barrel of oil has increased by 300% since 2005, the minimum bid to lease federal land for “energy exploration” remains at $2 an acre. Furthermore, the royalties that oil and gas companies pay is the same as it was 85 years ago, when gasoline was 20¢ a gallon. That figure made a certain amount of sense, back during the Jazz Age. Twenty cents was the equivalent to about $2.40 today. However, the fees and royalties charged by the federal government has not kept up with inflation nor changing realities.

While Exxon-Mobil, Royal Dutch Shell, BP and others continue to reap and internalize the greatest profits in the history of capitalism, the costs are externalized onto the backs of taxpayers. We, The People are left to pay for environmental damage, treatment for respiratory diseases, maintenance, and upkeep of deteriorating roads and bridges and more.

On September 15th, four hundred environmental advocacy and social justice organizations sent a letter to President Obama asking him to put a moratorium on issuing any more leases to the fossil fuel industry. As President, Barack Obama has executive authority under several federal statutes to put a stop to any new leases. Unfortunately, Mr. Obama has sent mixed signals when it comes to the environment. On one hand, he has expressed committment to “Green Energy” initiatives and reducing the amount of carbon emissions. On the other hand, he cleared the way for Royal Dutch Shell’s Arctic drilling operations (which have not yielded much in the way of results).

Shortly after Franklin D. Roosevelt was elected in 1932, he met with union leader Sidney Hillman and other prominent figures in the labor movement – many of whom were Socialists. The purpose was to discuss their ideas on how Roosevelt should address the economic disaster of the Great Depression. Reportedly, Roosevelt said, “I agree with you. I want to do it – now make me do it.”

Today, the stakes are much higher. It’s not just about the economy – it’s about the Earth. President Obama has indicated that he agrees with environmentalists…but it’s up to all of us to make him do it. Call the White House Switchboard at 202.456.1111 today and make your voice heard.

K.J. McElrath is a former history and social studies teacher who has long maintained a keen interest in legal and social issues. In addition to writing for The Ring of Fire, he is the author of two published novels: Tamanous Cooley, a darkly comic environmental twist on Dante's Inferno, and The Missionary's Wife, a story of the conflict between human nature and fundamentalist religious dogma. When not engaged in journalistic or literary pursuits, K.J. works as an entertainer and film composer.