Energy & Environment at The Hill

Great American Outdoors not possible without oil and natural gas

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In a recent interview, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland credited Congress for the billions of dollars in conservation funding from the Great American Outdoors Act. We agree Congress deserves recognition for passing the bipartisan bill shortly before the contentious 2020 election, but lawmakers don’t generate the $2.8 billion in annual conservation funding authorized by the new law. Rather, companies leasing and producing oil and natural gas on non-park, non-wilderness public lands and waters do. The royalties they generate finance conservation and infrastructure for our nation’s beloved national parts, wildlife refuges, and other public lands.

The Great American Outdoors Act builds on the legacy of balancing energy extraction on working landscapes with preserving our nation’s iconic places. It’s a balance that’s existed within the Department of the Interior for 100 years. The landmark law directs revenues almost exclusively from oil and natural gas production on public lands and waters into two conservation programs.

The new Land and Restoration Fund will receive up to $1.9 billion annually to address the $20 billion maintenance backlog in national parks and on other public lands. Similarly, the law authorized full funding of the popular Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) at $900 million annually for the first time in the program’s 50-year history. The revenues are exclusively generated from offshore oil and natural gas production.

But future Great American Outdoors funding is threatened by President Biden’s ban on new federal oil and natural gas leases. The president’s executive order on climate change signed in January halts new leasing while Interior undergoes a comprehensive review and environmental analysis that will likely take most, if not all, of his first term to complete. The president’s action lays the foundation to transition away from production on public lands entirely, putting at risk $2.8 billion annually for conservation and park infrastructure.

Secretary Haaland fails to acknowledge that fundamental fact. Just last month she announced $1.6 billion for 164 infrastructure and conservation projects in 2021. All have been high priority projects for several years and are finally getting the attention they deserve. They range from $40,000 to replace a water well serving the Dripping Springs Natural Area’s visitor center outside Las Cruces, N.M., to $208 million to reconstruct portions of the scenic George Washington Memorial Parkway outside of Washington, DC.

When announcing the projects, Secretary Haaland made no mention that the money is available because the oil and natural gas industry generates about $9 billion in royalties annually from federal oil and natural gas production on public lands and waters. No mention was made of the administration’s plans to do away with oil and natural gas on federal lands, even though they provide the only significant source of funding, with coal providing some as well. Their preferred wind and solar energy provide next to nothing.

If the policies this administration embarked on in January achieve President Biden’s ultimate goal of “no oil on federal lands,” revenues for Great American Outdoors projects will disappear. It won’t happen suddenly, but in the coming years as the existing inventory of leases run out, production will slow and eventually be eliminated. Royalties will then decline, creating a gap in available funds for conservation.

We wonder, is President Biden aware that his executive order would wipe out conservation and infrastructure funding for national parks as well? It seems to be a blind spot. Conspicuously, nobody in the administration has acknowledged the conflict between his leasing ban and public lands conservation.

Last year, Western Energy Alliance was proud to support and help pass the Great American Outdoors Act. We recognize the balance between responsible energy development on working landscapes while preserving our nation’s treasured public spaces. Rather than starving public lands of resources, we hope the Biden administration will join us in upholding the coexisting relationship Congress created between oil and natural gas and maintenance of national parks, wetlands, and other public lands by lifting the ban on leasing.

Western Energy Alliance represents 200 companies engaged in all aspects of environmentally responsible exploration and production of oil and natural gas in the West. Alliance members are independents, the majority of which are small businesses with an average of fourteen employees. Learn more at

Tags Deb Haaland Great American Outdoors Act Joe Biden Land and Water Conservation Fund National Park Service Offshore oil and gas in the United States

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