Bipartisan bill aims to measure impacts of federal energy development on climate

Drilling on public lands in Utah.

Mason Cummings/TWS

A new bipartisan bill introduced today will direct the Department of the Interior to measure how much our public lands contribute to climate change.

By Joshua Mantell

The bill directs the federal government to publish a database detailing the volumes of resources and greenhouse gas emissions of oil, gas, and coal development from our shared lands. Furthermore, it will document the renewable energy projects on public lands and how much emissions are avoided from renewable energy as a result of less oil, gas and coal.

In a show of bipartisanship to better understand climate change impacts on public lands, Reps. Alan Lowenthal (D-CA), Carlos Curbelo (R-FL), Niki Tsongas (D-MA), Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) and Ted Deutch (D-FL) came together to introduce this bill, entitled the Transparency in Energy Development Act.

This idea of better accounting for the impact of federal energy development on climate change, which The Wilderness Society has been advocating about for over a year and a half, is simple, yet historic. Never in the nation’s history has the federal government shown the American people how their own resources contribute to climate change, even though it is estimated that public lands account for more than one-fifth of the U.S. greenhouse gas footprint. That’s why it is so great to see Republicans and Democrats come together to put forward an important marker on how to move forward.

Measuring carbon and methane emissions from fossil fuels is a no-brainer. No business would fail to give their shareholders information on how much the company is producing and the impacts of that production. Yet the federal government, the largest energy asset manager in the nation, doesn’t tell us exactly how much of our resources are pulled out of the ground, and how much those resources contribute to global climate change.

In order for the federal government and federal land managers to manage lands properly, they need information on energy development. Yet, as the nation commits to reducing greenhouse gases from all economic sectors, public lands have been a blind spot throughout the conversation. We simply don’t have numbers for how emissions from oil, gas and coal from our shared lands impact the climate. With this information at hand, we can start to include climate change as another metric for how we manage our shared lands going forward. As the saying goes, “you can’t manage what you don’t measure.”

In January, Secretary of the Interior, Sally Jewell, directed the United States Geological Survey, to start on an endeavor to figure out what the total greenhouse gases from public lands are. This bipartisan legislation is a great complement to that effort and reflects Congressional support for smart business and good governance. Transparency is important and these leaders in Congress are showing the American people that they care about our public resources and those resources’ contributions to the climate crisis.