Selling out public lands: Trump's first month

President Trump is eager to follow through on bold promises to roll back environmental protections and pursue policies prioritizing fossil fuels on public lands.

Gage Skidmore, flickr

Our public lands are under attack. The fossil fuel lobby has an agenda for our public lands, and this Congress and administration are systematically implementing it piece by piece—at the expense of the American people.

Congress and the president are working together to dismantle smart energy policies that benefit all Americans so that oil, gas and coal executives continue to profit. To ensure our elected officials pay more attention to special interests than to their constituents, the fossil fuel lobby has spent hundreds of millions of dollars in Washington, DC.

In fact, every year the energy industry spends $300 million on lobbying. During the last election cycle, oil, gas and mining companies spent $180 million to boost candidates who promoted a fossil fuel-friendly agenda.

The oil and gas lobby wants to see Congress strip away environmental protections on public lands. Photo: Mason Cummings/TWS

Special interests pay to roll back protections

Much attention has been paid to several recent, unsuccessful attempts to sell off our public lands to states. But selling out our lands to the fossil fuel industry is an equal threat—and it’s happening right now. We are already seeing the results of the cash pouring into Washington by special interests. In Trump’s first month in office, our elected officials have already targeted many important protections for public health, the environment and taxpayer dollars.

Rollbacks include: 

Repealing environmental safeguards will hurt attempts to regulate climate-polluting emissions. Photo: Mason Cummings/TWS

Letting the fossil fuel industry write the rules is the wrong route for our land, air and water—these fights will not end as long as this Congress and administration are taking their lead from industry. Emboldened by Trump’s victory, the fossil fuel industry, with their huge coffers, will continue pushing for more policies to help them increase their profits—at the expense of the American people and our land, air and water.

What’s next on the special interest checklist?

Wasting resources

Next on the oil and gas agenda is repealing the Bureau of Land Management’s Methane and Natural Gas Waste Rule. This rule reduces methane emissions from oil and gas development on federal lands and ensures that we stop wasting resources owned by the American people. Any day now, the Senate could vote to roll back this oil and gas reform.

Congress is attacking pollution standards that help regulate natural gas waste and methane pollution from federal oil and gas development. Photo: Eric Gay/AP

Oil and gas control of public lands

The Senate is also considering repealing a regulation, known as Planning 2.0, that ensures the public’s voices are heard when the government is considering what public lands will be developed for drilling, mining and logging. Getting rid of this rule would give industry polluters more power and say in how American public lands are used than the people who own them.

Energy development and friendly state agencies

Two bills, S. 334 and S. 335, have been introduced that would give oil and gas permitting, leasing and regulations to the states. One would divest the federal government of any fracking decisions and give state agencies control over the when, where and how of fracking. The problem lies in the extremely cozy relationships many of the state agencies charged with regulating oil and gas have with the industry—just take a look at some of the emails that the oil and gas industry sent to former Oklahoma Attorney General, now-EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt.

While these bills would not hand over public lands to the states, they would hand over all responsibility for activity on public lands to states. But these lands don’t belong to states—or even to the federal government. They belong to us. And by cutting the public out of permitting and regulatory activities, these types of bills will silence the voice of the American people.

Oil and gas drilling in America’s Arctic

The oil and gas lobby is pressuring the White House and Congress to open the Arctic Refuge and the Arctic Ocean to drilling activity. These are some of the last untouched places in the country, with many species of wildlife, like caribou, polar bears and migratory birds, depending on this undisturbed land for survival. But the industry has long coveted these pristine areas for drilling, endangering one of the last great, intact ecosystems.

The coastal plain of Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, home to large caribou herds, is a prime target for our pro-drilling Congress. Photo: Peter Mather

Oil and gas drilling in wild places

Oil, gas and coal companies are trying to get access to many other public lands that should be off-limits to energy development, including Arches National Park in Utah, Chaco Canyon in New Mexico, Dinosaur National Monument in Colorado and George Washington National Forest in Virginia. If the administration and Congress get their way, they will allow oil, gas and coal companies to develop landscapes that should remain untouched for Americans, both present and future, to enjoy.

Protecting public lands from energy companies and their pals in Congress

Our public lands have long been used for energy development—often to the detriment of our land, water, air and climate. In fact, we know that more than one-fifth of all greenhouse gas emissions in this country can be traced back to energy development on our public lands.

But instead of taking efforts to address this problem and work towards a clean energy future, Congress and the Trump administration want to take us back in time and push policies favoring dirty, unregulated fossil fuels.

The Wilderness Society will continue to fight against all actions that harm the public’s ability to enjoy our public lands, and defend the American people’s right to have a say in how our public lands are used.

Together, we will stand firm against those who wish to give the oil and gas industry a bigger slice of our public lands. We cannot sell off or sell out our lands and let developers run amok. We will continue to work in good faith with people who want to protect our lands, and put up a strong, united defense against those who don’t.

How we fight

We’ll do this by advocating—as we always have—for a balanced, smart, responsible approach to energy development on public lands. We will:

  • Steer development away from our most sensitive and wildest places
  • Guarantee local voices and public input are taken into account before leasing decisions are made
  • Make sure any energy development is done with the safest and most responsible standards
  • Consider all climate consequences when developing energy resources
  • Work to use our public lands as a place to transition towards a clean energy future
  • Ensure the American people get a fair monetary return from the use and sale of their resources

These principles are commonsense for most Americans, who value our public lands for many uses, and believe that these lands and resources are part of what makes America so special.

At a Montana rally in February 2017, the public spoke out against selling off our public land.

We must protect the voice of Americans when making decisions about every aspect of our public lands. Our wild places are our natural heritage and should be part of the climate change solution—let’s keep it that way. 

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