Protecting America’s Public Lands for Future Generations Amid the Energy Boom
The rapid expansion of oil and gas production in the United States is bringing tens of thousands of new wells and well pads to America’s public lands, pushing drill rigs into local communities, prized hunting habitat, national parks, and watersheds that provide drinking water. A report released today by the Equal Ground campaign outlines how public support and the sustainability of America’s energy future depends upon whether the Obama administration can guide drilling to the right areas, deliver a fair return to taxpayers and local communities, and put the protection of public lands for future generations on equal ground with drilling.
The report, “A Blueprint for Balance,” provides a series of 16 recommendations to help bridge the gap between Washington’s ongoing focus on oil and gas development and the priorities of the American public. The recommendations, which are summarized in a short video, include:
- Requiring that federal agencies fully account for the economic benefits of recreation and protected public lands in decisions about whether and where to approve drilling
- Delivering a fair return to taxpayers by raising royalty rates and rental fees to be more consistent with state policies and establish a mitigation fund to address damage to land, water, and wildlife from drilling
- Prioritizing drilling projects that have fewer impacts on land and water resources
- Expanding outdoor recreational opportunities through the protection of backcountry areas, frontcountry areas, national monuments, and new wildlife refuges
According to recent public-opinion research commissioned by the Center for American Progress, when it comes to public lands, oil and gas drilling is not popular, with only 30 percent support among Western voters. Instead, Western voters across party lines are most concerned with preserving access to recreational opportunities—63 percent—and permanently protecting wilderness, parks, and open spaces for future generations—65 percent.
“No energy strategy can be called comprehensive or ‘all of the above’ unless it includes new protections for our land and water, delivers a fair return to taxpayers, and fully accounts for other benefits of public lands, such as outdoor recreation and local residents’ quality of life,” said John Podesta, Chair of the Center for American Progress. “Americans expect and deserve a more balanced approach to the management of their public lands. It is incumbent on the Obama administration to deliver that.”
Though the Obama administration took significant steps to improve oil and gas leasing practices on public lands in its first term, its efforts to permanently protect public lands is lagging behind the pace of drilling. In fact, the administration has been leasing public lands for oil and gas development more than 2.5 times faster than it is protecting them as parks, wilderness, and national monuments, which is out of step with many past presidents who have conserved as much public land as they have leased. This imbalance was exacerbated by the last Congress—the 112th—which became the first Congress since World War II to not protect a single new acre of public land as a national park, wilderness, wildlife refuge, or monument.
“Americans cherish their wild public lands, and we should be just as focused on protecting those wild places as we are on developing lands that belong to all of us,” said Jamie Williams,president of The Wilderness Society. “With a Congress in gridlock, President Obama has an opportunity to lead and strike the right the balance between drilling and conservation on public lands.”
“A Blueprint for Balance” is a collaborative project of the Center for American Progress, The Wilderness Society, the Conservation Lands Foundation, the Western Energy Project, and the Center for Western Priorities. It follows up on recommendations outlined by former Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt in a speech at the National Press Club in February.
“Americans are clamoring for more places to get outdoors with their families, yet every year we are losing an area the size of Delaware to development,” said Brian O’Donnell, executive director of the Conservation Lands Foundation. “We need policies that reflect the fact that America’s public lands aren’t a sacrifice zone for drilling, but—when protected—drive tourism, power recreation, and attract businesses and jobs.”
Read the report: A Blueprint for Balance by Matt-Lee Ashley, Christy Goldfuss, Jessica Goad, Tom Kenworthy, Nada Culver, Brian O’Donnell, Greg Zimmerman, and Ti Hays
Watch a short video summarizing the “Blueprint for Balance” report.
Learn more about the Equal Ground campaign.