We must balance energy development with protections for national parks and public lands

We must balance energy development with protections for national parks and public lands
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The Western Energy Alliance recently published an op-ed in The Hill, touting their efforts to protect our national parks. However, the piece failed to address current and future threats to parks from encroaching oil and gas development. With its unrelenting focus on drilling at any cost, the Trump administration has set the stage to fundamentally alter America’s landscape.

Threats to America’s national parks are growing more urgent by the day. This is a time for policies that truly protect our irreplaceable national parks and surrounding communities and landscapes. We must find common ground with that goal. 

For a century, the National Parks Conservation Association has fought to ensure Arches, Carlsbad Caverns, Rocky Mountain and other national park sites are protected for ours and future generations. The Western Energy Alliance has failed to support measures that will protect national parks from a massive effort to increase drilling all over the West.

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Since taking office, the Trump administration has offered almost 19 million acres of public land for oil and gas development. The administration has done this while slashing commonsense protections that allow the public to participate in the process and prevent unchecked development. Worse, important environmental reviews are now optional. When did protecting water, air, and local park-based economies become such a low priority? The Western Energy Alliance has publicly praised and asked for many of these changes.

Instead of paying lip service to national parks, we have a few ideas of real, tangible actions that industry partners could take to truly balance energy development with protections for national parks and public lands:

  • Work to pass legislation that permanently protects some prized national parks that are threatened by oil, gas and uranium development. This would include the Chaco Cultural Heritage Area Protection Act, a bill in both the House and Senate that would withdraw the 10 miles immediately surrounding Chaco Canyon in New Mexico from  new oil and gas development. Support the Grand Canyon Centennial Protection Act, which would withdraw one million acres directly around the Grand Canyon from new uranium leasing.

  • Encourage the Department of the Interior to reinstate master leasing plans (MLPs). These processes brought stakeholders together, including industry, federal agencies, tribes, local communities and state elected officials, to jointly plan where responsible development would be appropriate and identify areas that deserve added protection from drilling. With that process no longer in place, drilling leases continue to be offered on the doorstep of national parks.
  • Advocate for more opportunities for the public to engage in the leasing process, not fewer. This includes lengthening comment periods and bringing back environmental reviews. Everyone should know about potential damage to our public lands and have a say in how these lands are managed.
  • Encourage the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to require the capture of excess methane gas produced during oil and gas operations. Multiple companies voluntarily adhere to these commonsense standards that save taxpayers money and help control one of the most potent greenhouse gases that contributes to climate change.

Advocating for some of these reasonable policies would put some guardrails up to guide the runaway train of drilling that is happening across the West under this administration. By joining advocates, local communities, and state elected officials across the country in this effort, the oil and gas industry could legitimately claim that it truly cares about protecting our national parks. Our national parks deserve better. 

Matt Kirby is the director of energy and landscape conservation for the National Parks Conservation Association.