From the Spring 2021 issue of Wild Works

In the Winter 2020 issue of Wild Works, our “Election Update” article outlined some of the changes we expected based on the 2020 elections. We’re happy to report that our initial predictions regarding the end of the “energy dominance” agenda, support for the 30×30 initiative (conserving 30% of our nation’s lands and waters by 2030), and a new era at the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) were correct! As we pass President Biden’s 100th day in office, our excitement continues to grow about the opportunities we see with the new administration and Congress.

In his inaugural address, President Biden said, “The cry for help is coming from the planet itself.” This sobering assessment led him to quickly issue an “Executive Order (EO) on Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad.” In addition to policies that call on nearly every agency and department of the federal government to put the climate crisis at the center of their work, the EO calls for the end of fossil fuel subsidies, the creation of a Civilian Climate Corps, and pledges support for the 30×30 initiative. 

Critically important for our work here at Wilderness Workshop, the EO directed the Interior Department to pause all new oil and gas leasing on public lands while the Department conducts a comprehensive review and reconsideration of the federal oil and gas program. Through this review, the Interior Department will consider the impacts of oil and gas leasing and development on our climate and other public lands resources and values.

We’ve been urging the federal government to modernize its oil and gas program for years, and we sprang into action right away to provide formal recommendations to the Interior Department for ensuring the review includes a comprehensive assessment of problems we’ve seen first hand and that have plagued the federal oil and gas program for decades. Key elements of our recommendations for oil and gas reform include:

  • Protect wildlands, wildlife habitat, backcountry recreation and other important public lands values from oil and gas development by closing those areas to leasing.
  • Align oil and gas leasing and permitting decisions with national and global climate targets, and assess the cumulative impacts of the federal oil and gas program on climate change.
  • Manage a rapid decline of fossil fuel production on public lands that is equitable and sustains and revitalizes rural economies.
  • Close loopholes that enable the oil and gas industry to speculate on our public lands and hold leases indefinitely with no public oversight.
  • Ensure public participation opportunities in all decisions affecting oil and gas management on our public lands.

In another key provision, the EO makes clear that environmental justice is a major priority, committing the Biden-Harris administration to “secure environmental justice and spur economic opportunity for disadvantaged communities that have been historically marginalized and overburdened by pollution and underinvestment.” To achieve this the EO establishes two White House Environmental Justice Councils and directs all federal agencies to make achieving environmental justice part of their mission.

We have much work ahead and we’ll need to hold the Biden-Harris administration accountable to the inspiring vision set forth in the EO. Yet we have early reasons to be optimistic – in April, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland issued a Secretarial Order implementing portions of the EO at the Interior Department. The Secretarial Order established a Departmental Climate Task Force to implement the review and reconsideration of the federal oil and gas program, identify strategies to reduce climate pollution and foster economic revitalization of energy communities. The Secretarial Order also directs agencies to restore integrity to the NEPA process in three important ways: analyzing climate change; engaging environmental justice and Indigenous communities; and no longer applying the Trump administration’s watered-down NEPA rule.

Early Excitement for Public Lands

CORE Act: In late February 2021, the CORE (Colorado Outdoor Recreation & Economy) Act – which would protect the Thompson and Continental Divides and is championed by Rep. Joe Neguse – passed the House of Representatives for a third time! It’s now in the Senate, where pro-conservation Senators Bennet and Hickenlooper are working to move it forward. The Senate isn’t known for expediency, but we’re optimistic about the Bill’s chances in the 117th Congress.

BLM’s Deb Haaland: President Biden’s appointment of Deb Haaland of New Mexico as the first Native American to serve as Secretary of the Interior is as historic as it is exciting. She was a strong public lands ally as a member of the House Natural Resources Committee, supporting 30×30, equity within climate and conservation policies, and decisive action on climate. We look forward to working with Secretary Haaland and Interior agencies on efforts to restore public process and engagement while protecting public lands for all Americans.