I appreciate that Interior Secretary Deb Haaland is joining a conversation with the Salazar Center to discuss the Administration’s plan for “America the Beautiful,” an effort to secure protections for public lands across the nation.
But I have difficulty reconciling this leadership role with the Biden administration’s continuation of damaging, left-over policies that thwart conservation and put our public lands and waters in significant jeopardy.
Consider the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase Escalante National Monuments, which the Trump administration gutted. The Department of the Interior has yet to make the critical announcement to restore protections for these national monuments despite a promise early in the Biden term to do so. This is a necessary step to repairing the relationship between the federal government and sovereign nations, and to ensure that tribes and their ancestral lands gain the respect and protective management they deserve.
In addition, last month, the Biden administration walked back their moratorium on oil and gas leasing on federal public lands, and offered no reforms or even a roadmap to make them. The oil and gas industry is notorious for disrupting and damaging our public lands. This industry regularly misleads about or denies the known adverse effects of oil and gas development on our general health, the climate, and our environment.
Industry pays very little to use our public lands, damages them and often leaves them in terrible condition. Our tax dollars are spent to fix the messes that this industry makes. Oil and gas companies pay too little in taxes and fees overall, and Americans are then left footing the bill.
We don’t have time for this. The Colorado River crisis is grave. The climate emergency is slamming into the U.S. right now, and an “all of government” approach should mean just that. We need to see action, not just read a statement.
Much of western Colorado is warming more quickly than other places in the nation and world. And the entire region remains in severe drought. Air quality has been abysmal across Colorado and the U.S. West as climate-change-fueled fires rage. Heatwaves and changing precipitation patterns threaten agriculture not only in Colorado but across a vast section of the nation.
Meanwhile, U.S. Geological Survey, an Interior agency, data show that fossil fuel development, including oil and gas leasing and fracking, contributes up to 25% of the nation’s carbon pollution, driving this climate crisis. If now is not the time to put the brakes on fossil fuel development on public lands and take this opportunity to reform how that activity proceeds, then it is difficult to grasp what kind of crisis would drive that action. July was the hottest ever recorded and none of the science suggests that the climate crisis will get better through inaction.
The Interior Department should rethink its position. The Secretary should issue a clear directive on how the Biden administration intends to fix the badly broken oil and gas program and how it will administer public lands to address the climate emergency with the urgency required.
Please, Mrs. Secretary and Mr. President, protect our planet, save our monuments, act on climate, and reform harmful oil and gas policies. Do it today.
Pete Kolbenschlag, of Delta County, is director of the Colorado Farm and Food Alliance.
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