The state of America’s public lands in 2024, by the numbers

Mar 5, 2024

By Aaron Weiss

When it comes to public lands, President Biden has a lot to brag about during his State of the Union address. But it’s been more than 200 days since he’s protected a new national monument.

When President Joe Biden delivers the final State of the Union address of his first term on Thursday, he’ll be able to report to Congress that America’s public lands are in far better shape now than when he took office. Unfortunately, he is also missing opportunities to tell that success story in communities across the country.

Here are the key numbers to keep in mind during the address:

1.5 million acres
The amount of national public land President Biden has protected as new national monuments using the Antiquities Act.

President Biden has used his congressionally-granted power to designate five new national monuments so far, making progress towards the national goal of protecting 30 percent of America’s lands and waters by 2030. The acreage total puts him within reach of President Clinton’s first-term record of 1.7 million acres protected.

210 days
The amount of time since President Biden last used the Antiquities Act.

The president designated Baaj Nwaavjo I’tah Kukveni — Ancestral Footprints of the Grand Canyon National Monument on August 8, 2023. In the subsequent seven months (yes, we’re counting), many other locally- and Tribally-led conservation campaigns have called on President Biden to protect public land in their states, including the proposed Chuckwalla National Monument in Southern California, Dolores Canyons in Colorado, Bahsahwahbee in Nevada, and Oregon’s Owyhee Canyonlands. President Biden has also been asked to expand existing national monuments, including the San Gabriel Mountains near Los Angeles, and Molok Luyuk, which is adjacent to Berryessa Snow Mountain National Monument in Northern California. With just over 10 months left in his first term, President Biden has the opportunity to protect one or more new national monuments each month.

85 percent
The percentage of Western voters who support creating new national parks, national monuments, national wildlife refuges and Tribal protected areas.

According to the 2024 Conservation in the West poll from the Colorado College State of the Rockies Project, voters in eight Western states are nearly unanimous in their support for new public land protections. The poll also found that 4 out of 5 Western voters support the national 30×30 goal, with the highest levels of support (83 percent) in Colorado and Utah.

New protected areas: 85 percent

25 gigawatts
The amount of renewable energy capacity President Biden has pledged to permit on national public lands by 2025.

As of last November, the Interior Department had approved enough projects to generate 11 gigawatts of power, with another 66 projects being considered by the Bureau of Land Management.

8 weeks
The amount of time remaining to finalize administrative rulemakings in order to protect them from potential repeal in 2025.

President Biden’s administrative legacy on public lands will be determined over the next two months. The Bureau of Land Management’s Public Lands Rule would finally fulfill the promise of America’s 50-year-old land management law, FLPMA, by treating conservation as a use of public lands. BLM’s Oil and Gas Rule would lock in the Inflation Reduction Act’s reforms of the oil and gas leasing system, and require drillers to post bonds sufficient to clean up after themselves. But because of the Congressional Review Act, these rules could be repealed under a future Congress unless they are finalized more than 60 legislative days before the end of the current session. Realistically, that means publishing rules in the Federal Register by the end of April.

95,029 acres
The amount of national public land nominated by oil and gas companies for leasing in 2023.

This represents a 98 percent drop in industry interest compared to the peak of nearly 4.7 million acres nominated in 2019, when anyone could anonymously nominate public land for leasing. The Inflation Reduction Act, which President Biden signed in 2022, overhauled the oil and gas leasing system. The new system requires oil and gas companies to pay a $5 per acre fee when they nominate public land for leasing. Of the land nominated in 2023, around 77,000 acres were valid nominations that are eligible for future leasing.

15,844 acres
The amount of national public land the Bureau of Land Management plans to offer for oil and gas leasing in the first quarter of 2024.

In order to advance renewable energy projects, the Inflation Reduction Act requires BLM to hold lease sales of at least 50 percent of the valid acreage nominated by oil and gas companies over the previous 12 month period. Compared to the 7 million acres offered in 2019, and driven by the collapse in industry interest in new leasing, the size of the planned lease sales in 2024 shows the IRA’s overhaul of the oil and gas leasing system is working.

11.3 million acres
The amount of national public land that was leased but unused by oil and gas companies at the end of Fiscal Year 2022.

As of December 2023, oil and gas companies had more than 7,000 approved but unused permits to drill on federal land.

1.3 billion barrels
The amount of oil produced on federal land during President Biden’s term so far.

Oil and gas production surged on federal lands over the last three years. Compared to the same period under President Trump (February 2017-October 2019 vs. February 2021-October 2023), oil and gas companies produced nearly twice as much oil on federal lands. As of October 2023 (the most recent data available), the U.S. was on track to set an all-time record for annual oil and gas production on federal lands — more than 500 million barrels of oil in a single year. This record production shows that industry claims of “Biden’s war on oil and gas” are a myth. Oil and gas companies are still sitting on years of leased but unused acres and already-approved drilling permits. Even as America transitions to a renewable energy economy, legacy fossil fuel production remains high, keeping gas prices low for consumers.

$4 billion
The amount of funding the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law has provided to Mountain West states so far.

In the two years since President Biden signed the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, the Interior department has sent more than $8 billion toward natural resource and Tribal projects across the country, half of which has been directed for Mountain West states. The Biden administration also continues to provide funding for conservation through the Inflation Reduction Act, including $195 million announced last week for climate resilience projects in national parks. The IRA will also provide nearly $4.6 billion to mitigate drought impacts and advance water conservation across the Colorado River basin.

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Featured image: Department of the Interior