Opinion | Energy & Environment

To protect our parks, hit pause on leasing

The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the view of The Hill

Our national parks are America's crown jewels and as former directors of the National Park Service (NPS), it has been an honor to dedicate our careers to the stewardship of places like Yellowstone, Arches and Everglades National Parks. 

These are places that inspire pride and provide an opportunity for adventure and reflection, and for more than a century, generations of public servants have worked to uphold the mission of the NPS by ensuring that these parks are accessible to the public but preserved for the enjoyment of future generations. 

As the Biden administration transitions into office with a mandate to heal the wounds left by the previous administration, they have a unique opportunity to work with Congress to reform this broken system and protect America's iconic public lands. By reforming the federal leasing system, the new administration can start managing our public lands to best serve the public and ensure the protection of our parks for future generations.

The federal oil and gas leasing system has not been comprehensively updated in decades and is not suited to the needs and values of 21st century America. It's still permitted under our current leasing system, which allows oil and gas companies - or other speculators - to tie up huge swaths of public lands that have low or no potential for drilling and for as low as $1.50 per acre

We understand what a great responsibility it is to manage our public lands - and we are grateful there are efforts underway to fix the leasing system. Among them is legislation introduced last Congress from Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) that would end the practice of leasing public lands with little to no drilling potential, and legislation from Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) that would prevent oil and gas companies from leasing our land in noncompetitive backdoor deals for bottom barrel prices. These solutions, which should be reintroduced this year, will help bring the outdated leasing system into the 21st century and protect our public lands and all they have to offer. 

We support the Biden administration's interest in protecting our nation's resources and the health of our planet. And the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the NPS must work together to ensure that our treasured resources are protected. America's national parks help tell the story of our country's rich and diverse heritage while generating $21 billion in consumer spending and providing stable jobs for over 340,000 people. These special places should never be sacrificed for a handful of special interests.  

As the new administration begins the work to restore environmental protections, including a 60-day pause on oil and gas leasing on federal lands, we encourage them and call an extended halt to new oil and gas leasing on public lands and waters. We are thankful for the work they have done and we urge them to explore opportunities to work with members of Congress on making leasing reforms permanent so that our national parks and monuments can be enjoyed by generations of Americans to come. 

Robert Stanton served for nearly 40 years with the National Park Service as a ranger, management assistant, park superintendent, regional director and associate director. In 1997, he was appointed as the 15th director of the NPS and served from 1997 - 2001.

Jonathan Jarvis served for 40 years with the NPS as ranger, biologist and superintendent in national parks across the country. In 2009, he was appointed the 18th director of the NPS and served from 2009- 2017.

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