The current administration’s rush to offer vast swaths of our public lands to oil and gas companies—irrespective of their potential to actually produce either oil or gas—is both unprecedented and unwise. It comes at the expense of other land uses, traditional values, the Western economy, and multiple use principles that have guided American land management for more than a century.
This fire-sale approach to managing our public lands is also fiscally irresponsible, as it encourages speculative and non-competitive leasing that allows our lands to be locked up for as little as $1.50 per acre.
Nevada has been hit particularly hard, with more than 2 million acres having already been offered up for leasing. This prompted Senator Cortez Masto (D-NV) recently to introduce legislation, the End Speculative Oil and Gas Leasing Act of 2020 (S. 3202), aimed at reining in these irresponsible leasing practices.
If enacted, the bill would restore much needed balance to our federal oil and gas leasing program, and help ensure those lands that are leased provide a fairer return to the American taxpayer.
This legislation would prohibit most leasing in areas designated as “low or no potential” for oil and gas development. It would also require any public land put up for lease to have an up-to-date analysis of its oil and gas development potential, and reinforce the government’s duty to manage public lands for multiple use.
It should not matter which side of the aisle this common sense legislation originates from, it is long overdue and essential for the responsible stewardship of America’s public lands.
Without passage of reforms, like those in S. 3202, the unprecedented sell off of America’s public lands will continue because the current administration subordinates all other natural resource values—even essential water supplies for Western communities—to farfetched oil and gas development prospects.
Past administrations, include those of conservative leaders like Theodore Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan, adhered to the adage “conservation is conservative.” They recognized the value of multiple use and balance in public land management, where conserving our fish and wildlife habitat, providing opportunities for outdoor recreation, and protecting our drinking water sources are priorities too.
This legislation follows in that spirit and deserves broad, bi-partisan support.