Why we need smart energy development

As a small business owner, I’ve built up my company within the framework of a growing outdoor recreation industry—a $646 billion industry that has long sustained my family, the families of my employees, retailers and suppliers. The United States is home to Yellowstone, Yosemite, the Grand Canyon and countless other treasured lands.

My small business depends on access to these and other outdoor recreational opportunities, and here’s why: All in all, outdoor recreation business drives $646 billion in consumer spending, $790 billion in local and state revenue—while supporting 12 million American jobs. Those are some impressive figures, but more importantly, they demonstrate the real life impact of public lands on the economy.

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Last year’s government shutdown highlighted just how important these places are, especially to the West. $76 million a day was lost by local communities adjacent to national parks alone. There is no doubt that parks and public lands are crucial economic drivers.

That is precisely why I am so concerned about oil and gas development near our national parks. On December 19th, we marked the fifth anniversary of the Bush Administration’s decision to lease 77 parcels of public land in Utah, very near some of the nation’s most treasured parks and public lands, including Arches National Park, Canyonlands National Park and Dinosaur National Monument.

I would urge Secretary of Interior Sally Jewell and the Obama administration to advance policies that bring energy development into balance with other sustainable revenue streams and essential uses of our public lands.

Thankfully, we have a champion in Secretary Jewell, who spoke to the Western Governors' Association meeting in Nevada last month about mitigating the impacts of oil and gas development. I applaud Secretary Jewell’s commitment to balanced energy development, but I also encourage her to talk not just about mitigating the impacts, but ensuring development only happens in the right places in the first place. That means enforcing the common-sense policies already in place to secure public input and implement responsible planning.

Energy development and outdoor recreation are not mutually exclusive, but we need smart policies to ensure they can coexist. My experiences, and the experiences millions of other Americans and international visitors have on public lands, whether it’s hunting, fishing, hiking or just taking in the spectacular vistas, are just as important as extracting the oil and gas beneath our feet.

It’s also worth remembering that these lands have been entrusted to the American public and ought to stay in the hands of the American public—not states or private developers. October’s government shutdown revealed that the majority of Americans feel the same way. As new technologies unlock new opportunities for oil and gas production across the country, we are also seeing energy development and outdoor recreation coming into greater conflict.

The current administration has set aside more than two and a half times as many acres for oil and gas development as they have protected for recreation. The past Congress was the first since World War II not to protect a single new acre of public land. This imbalance cannot persist. It is short sighted and will greatly affect my small business and many others like it.

My concerns are both economic and ethical. We all share an obligation to ensure access to wild spaces for the viability of our economy, for their intrinsic and natural beauty, for our quality of life and most importantly, for the enjoyment of our children and grandchildren.

It’s past time that we take a balanced approach, and before long it may be too late.

Reiss is the principal at Sanitas Sales Group, an independent outdoor recreation sales company that operates across the West.