Congress Extends Dismal Track Record on Land Conservation
The Obama administration has been taking a more balanced approach to energy development and land conservation so far in the second term, according to a new report from The Wilderness Society. Congress, however, continues to extend the worst record of inaction on land conservation in more than four decades.
In the first of a series of quarterly updates, The Wilderness Society found that the Administration protected more than 244,000 acres of land in the first three months of 2013, compared to 287,000 acres of public land leased to fossil fuel and renewable energy projects. By comparison, the Administration leased more than 6 million acres of public lands to oil and gas companies in its first term, compared with only 2.6 million acres that were permanently protected.
“President Obama’s designation of five new National Monuments, including the Rio Grande del Norte monument, is an encouraging sign that he is aiming to take a more balanced approach to oil and gas development and conservation on our public lands,” said Jamie Williams, president of The Wilderness Society. “What is clearly missing from this equation is Congressional action to also balance conservation and energy development.”
The report notes that Congress has protected zero acres of land so far this year, although proposals to protect places like Colorado’s Browns Canyon and Arizona’s Sonoran Desert have been introduced. The 112th Congress, which adjourned last year, was the first in over 40 years to fail to protect a single acre of wilderness. During the first term of the Obama administration, energy development outpaced conservation by nearly 4 million acres. The website EqualGround.org notes that President Obama has leased 2.4 acres of land to oil and gas companies for every acre protected under his administration.
In terms of energy acreage, fossil fuels still reign supreme – accounting for the majority of the acres leased in 2013.
“The administration has shown a commitment to increasing renewable wind and solar and siting it responsibly on public lands,” said Williams. “We’re encouraged by this smart approach to placing clean energy in areas away from sensitive lands.”
“The administration has shown that they understand how to balance energy development and conservation, but they need to keep up the effort. The recent plan for the National Petroleum Reserve – Alaska shows that areas can be managed for both the benefit of the environment and for energy development,” said Williams.
The Bureau of Land Management Plan for the NPR-A kept more than 11 million acres of wild lands free from leasing, while still keeping 72% of the oil reserves in the area available for drilling.
“We hope to see that kind of holistic approach taken as leasing decisions are made in Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, and throughout the West,” said Williams.
By The Numbers report: http://wilderness.org/resource/numbers-acres-energy-and-conservation