A national coalition of conservation groups has released a report that includes 16 recommendations — include raising drilling and royalty rates — to balance the development of oil and gas resources on public lands with environmental concerns and recreational needs.
The report, “A Blueprint for Balance,” was released August 6 by Equal Ground, a coalition whose members include the Center for American Progress, the Wilderness Society, the Conservation Lands Foundation, the Center for Western Priorities, and the Western Energy Project.
**Unequal Findings **
The report claims the sustainability of America’s energy future depends on whether the Obama administration can limit drilling to the right areas, deliver a fair return to taxpayers and local communities, and put the protection of public lands on the same priority level as drilling.
Equal Ground says the Obama Administration’s approach to public lands management is skewed toward resource development at the expense of the environment and recreation. Although the federal government has taken steps to improve leasing practices on public lands, it has also been leasing public lands for oil and gas development 2.5 times faster than it is creating parks, wilderness, and national monuments.
“The last Congress was the first since World War II to not protect a single new acre of public land as a park, national monument or wilderness area,” Jamie Williams, president of The Wilderness Society, told reporters on August 6. “There is a Gold Rush mentality right now on our public lands, and that mentality not only puts the energy boom at risk of bust, but it also has real costs to America’s recreation, tourism, and outdoor economy.”
According to Equal Ground, oil production is at its highest level in more than a decade and U.S. dependence on foreign oil has dropped. Yet federal policies continue to favor a “lopsided leasing policy” that puts oil drilling above other uses like conservation, recreation, and hunting and fishing.
“A total of 38 million acres of public lands (about the size of Florida) is already leased to the oil and gas industry, yet the industry continues to gain more access to our wildlands,” the report states.
Public Lands Priority
The report says the Obama Administration has underestimated the priority Americans place on environmental protections and public lands recreation.
The report cites a recent public-opinion research commissioned by the Center for American Progress among Western voters, only 30 percent support oil and gas drilling on public lands. Meanwhile, the same group of western voters across party lines said they were most concerned with preserving access to recreational opportunities (63 percent), and permanently protecting wilderness, parks, and open spaces for future generations (65 percent).
“Americans are clamoring for more places to get outdoors with their families, yet every year we are losing an area the size of Delaware to development,” said Brian O’Donnell, executive director of the Conservation Lands Foundation. “We need policies that reflect the fact that America’s public lands aren’t a sacrifice zone for drilling, but — when protected — drive tourism, power recreation, and attract businesses and jobs.”
Among the 16 recommendations included in Equal Ground’s Blueprint for Balance:
— Require federal agencies to fully account for the economic benefits of recreation and protected public lands in decisions about whether and where to approve drilling.
— Deliver a fair return to taxpayers by raising royalty rates and rental fees to be more consistent with state policies and establish a mitigation fund to address damage to land, water, and wildlife from drilling.
— Prioritize drilling projects that have fewer impacts on land and water resources.
— Expand outdoor recreational opportunities through the protection of backcountry areas, frontcountry areas, national monuments, and new wildlife refuges.
“No energy strategy can be called comprehensive or ‘all of the above’ unless it includes new protections for our land and water, delivers a fair return to taxpayers, and fully accounts for other benefits of public lands, such as outdoor recreation and local residents’ quality of life,” said John Podesta, Chair of the Center for American Progress. “Americans expect and deserve a more balanced approach to the management of their public lands. It is incumbent on the Obama administration to deliver that.”