By Joshua Mantell
Earlier this week the Trump administration released its detailed budget for the federal government. This budget would be devastating for millions of people with cuts to food stamps, elimination of heating assistance for low-income Americans and reductions to the Environmental Protection Agency’s budget that are larger than any other department.
While the budget has already been called “dead on arrival” in Congress, it provides important insights into the priorities and desires of the Trump administration. In particular, it gives us a view into how this administration views our public lands and how they relate to our energy future. It is not a pretty picture.
Fossil fuels over renewable energy
Overall, the Department of the Interior budget is cut by over $1.5 billion in President Trump’s proposal. That would mean cuts to some of our wildest lands and most treasured landscapes. But one of the most perverse parts of the budget is that it does increase the budget of one particular program: oil, gas and coal management. And guess where those funds came from? Hint: funds for renewable energy are cut in half in this proposal.
This administration has decided that, despite ever-cheaper renewable energy and incontrovertible evidence that the use of fossil fuels drives climate change, we should reduce our use of clean energy in order to promote more oil, gas and coal on our public lands.
This all comes at the same time that the Interior Department is trying to undue countless protections that would ensure that when development occurs, it is done safely and responsible.
Increasing use of fossil fuels, while reducing public input, safety regulations and climate change research creates a recipe for major problems.
Meanwhile, it is important to keep in mind that the oil and gas industry does not even produce on many of the leases it already has. More than 50 percent of federal land under lease is sitting idle—not producing any oil or gas.
And yet, this administration wants to increase the amount of land that the oil and gas industry has, even as the industry doesn’t use its current stockpile. This only makes sense when you know that the oil and gas industry has had unfettered access to the current Secretary of the Interior and this administration seems to be in the pocket of the oil and gas lobby.
Little funding for protecting wildlife habitat
Another big priority for the oil and gas industry included in the President’s budget is cutting funds that would protect greater sage-grouse habitat. The greater sage-grouse population has been diminishing for many years, in large part due to oil and gas development.
Knowing the importance of this bird to the sagebrush ecosystem, the previous administration worked with local stakeholders—including counties, governors and the public—to put in place plans that would allow for development in appropriate places, while ensuring conservation for important sage grouse habitat throughout the West.
These plans are already being implemented, but now the Trump administration is cutting the funds for them and dooming the greater sage grouse habitat and the birds that depend on it to certain endangerment.
This administration has made clear its intention for our public lands: fossil fuel above all. It is trying to ignore the many benefits that our lands hold for all of us, including clean energy, recreation, habitat conservation, clean water and safe and responsible development.
We know that our public lands contribute to the climate crisis, and we should be working to make sure they are part of the solution. But the Trump administration is taking the opposite approach—the wrong one for our shared lands.