The role of public lands in addressing climate change


Last week, President Biden announced the American Jobs Plan, an ambitious proposal aimed at creating jobs and spurring innovation, with a particular focus on the energy sector and supporting the nation’s transition to a fairer, greener economy. Among the many laudatory goals laid out is transitioning the country to 100 percent carbon-free electricity by 2035.

Reaching this goal is critical. The science is clear that the United States and the rest of the world are currently on a dangerous trajectory if we do not seriously address the climate crisis — and implementing smart policies to reduce our carbon footprint while strengthening the economy has been a cornerstone of the president’s agenda. The president’s plan combines a blend of incentives for the manufacturing and deployment of innovative technologies like renewables and electric vehicles, with attainable reductions in the use of fossil fuels for energy generation. With the president’s announcement, the hard work turns to Congress, where members must figure out how to turn the American Jobs Plan into action, and ultimately law.

As an investor in clean energy companies including Tesla, I applaud the president for this bold action. The United States has the technology to move to a cleaner energy economy. There is, however, another clear opportunity to address climate change that Congress should consider as it writes the legislation: Policies that phase out the development of oil and gas energy on public lands.

What many people don’t know is that more than 20 percent of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions comes from fossil fuel development on public lands and waters — which are managed by the federal government. In fact, the amount of energy resources available on public lands makes the federal government one of the largest energy asset managers in the world. And thus, our public lands and waters provide an immediate opportunity for Congress to act on climate change. 

Despite this outsized impact on our climate, federal management of these areas has failed to become a focal point of policymakers who genuinely seek to address climate change.

As work on this next bill begins, there are several common-sense pieces of legislation, like the Public Lands Renewable Energy Development Act, the Transparency in Energy Production Act, and the Fair Returns for Public Lands Act, which, if included, would implement policies that steer the federal governments’ management of these areas toward conservation and responsible siting of renewable projects that respect the right of local communities and reduce harmful emissions. All of these bills build on the important step taken earlier this year, when the Biden administration announced it was launching a review of federal oil and gas leasing rules and, in the meantime, implementing a pause on new leases.

These policies are critical not only for public health and the environment, but the economy as well. In recent years, an exciting trend has emerged. Innovative companies are increasingly locating to states that provide ample access to outdoor recreation.

Quality of life, and specifically access to beautiful recreational opportunities for employees, is a key incentive that encourages companies to put down roots. As a result, when venture capitalists like myself consider an investment opportunity, or fast-growing company executives are searching for a place to locate their next facility, the ability to recruit top-quality employees to help the company grow is central to the decision. Access to first-class outdoor recreational opportunities is extremely important to these target employees and so becomes a critical part of any decision-making process.

A national survey of over 4,000 employees of fast-growing companies published in 2017 by The Muse found that nearly 70 percent said that these opportunities were important to their lives outside the office. Even more striking, 25 percent said it was important in making their decision to accept their current job.

As Congress and President Biden consider climate legislation, I urge them to enact legislation that requires better management practices on our public lands. Doing so will create thousands of new high-quality jobs and help build solutions to solve the climate crisis we all face.

Nancy Pfund is managing partner of DBL Partners, a leading investor in innovative companies. She is also a founding member of the Business Coalition for Conservation and Climate a group of prominent investors and business executives urging Congress and the Biden administration to implement common sense policies to protect public lands and the economy.

Tags Climate change Fossil fuels Joe Biden leasing Nancy Pfund public lands

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