Americans should know exactly how much greenhouse gas is produced from public land drilling

Americans should know exactly how much greenhouse gas is produced from public land drilling
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The style of decision-making undertaken by the Trump administration has been raising awareness — and in some instances serious concerns — about the lack of information the public knows, and has a right to know, about how major policies are made by our government. 

We have seen several disturbing examples of this recently as information related to decisions has come to light highlighting the process through which the federal government makes hugely impactful decisions about energy development on public lands on the United States.

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In addition to being the world’s largest economy and its biggest military force, the United States is also one of the world’s largest energy asset managers, controlling subsurface mineral rights on 700 million acres. As a result, the U.S. government is a significant contributor to climate change, with 20 percent or more of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions the result of energy produced on publicly owned lands. Despite this massive impact, there is little information available about the amount of carbon dioxide and methane, two of the primary drivers of climate change, emitted on public lands.

 

This lack of basic information is especially troubling considering what we are learning about how the Trump administration views our public lands, which appears to be drill anytime and anywhere. We saw evidence of this philosophy earlier this year for example, when we learned through documents released via court order that the Trump administration’s decision to reduce the size of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase National Monuments were heavily influenced by oil and gas interests who wanted to lease the land for exploration and development. 

We saw it again last week, when the Interior Department’s Royalty Policy Committee, a body that was created by Congress to ensure that the public receives the full value of the natural resources produced from federal land met, mainly in secret, and approved a series of recommendations made from oil and gas interests to reduce the size and scope of environmental reviews the agency must conduct before approving drilling activity. 

The American people own these lands and we should all be troubled by what transpired. A group, mainly comprised of industry lobbyists, met in private to devise new policies that limit the public’s access to information about the environmental impact of oil and gas development on our public lands.

This is deeply disappointing. As owners and caretakers of our nation’s resources, we should all strive for greater transparency and accountability from our federal government, particularly when it comes to our most cherished natural resource, our public parks and monuments.

Fortunately, change is underway. Not in Washington, but on Wall Street, in Silicon Valley and across the world, where asset managers are taking a hard look at their investments and how the companies, products and services their funding supports impacts the public’s health and climate change. 

The changes proposed by these funds range from investing in cleaner alternatives, narrowing their pool of investments to companies with low carbon footprints, to simply demanding better reporting and information from their portfolio companies about how their operations impact the planet.

This effort, which has been endorsed by leading firms like Blackrock, UBS, and JP Morgan Chase, is an important step and one we must all demand of our government as well. We should not hold the manager of our pension or 401K plan to a higher standard than we do of our government. 

Fortunately, there is a bipartisan group of members of Congress who are working together to bring transparency and accountability to the way our nation manages its federal lands. The Energy Production Transparency Act (H.R. 4126) has a very simple goal: It requires the Department of the Interior to publicly disclose the amounts of fossil fuels produced and the resulting greenhouse gas released. 

As owners of these lands, the American people are entitled to that information, and as the private sector is already demonstrating, money can be made without degrading our health and environment. I urge members of Congress to work together to reject policies developed behind closed doors like those made by the Royalty Policy Committee last week to restrict the public’s access to information and instead embrace policies like H.R. 4126. We can continue develop energy on public lands that is consistent with our desire to keep them sustainable for generations to come.

Nancy Pfund is the founder and managing partner of DBL Partners, a venture capital firm whose goal is to combine top- tier financial returns with meaningful social, environmental and economic returns. She is also a founding member of the Business Coalition for Conservation and Climate, an organization of high-profile executives and investors that will urge the U.S. government to steward the public’s land in a manner that reduces greenhouse gas emissions as part of a national strategy to address climate change.