The Fight for Our Public Lands, Wildlife and Economies Begins

Ryan Zinke, a now former Congressman from Montana, has just been confirmed to lead the Department of Interior.  He has a lifetime record of voting against the environment 96% of the time. His confirmation jeopardizes the future of our public lands, and the people, wildlife, and economies that depend on them.

Zinke’s answers to questions during the confirmation process provide insight into how he envisions the Department of Interior will manage millions of acres of federal lands and the natural resources under and on our wild places. When asked if humans have contributed to climate change, he questioned whether we are the driving force. When asked about protecting public lands, he refused to commit to keeping dirty fuels in the ground. He even said that the recent designation of Bears Ears National Monument in Utah, lands that are sacred to five Native American tribes with ancestral and spiritual ties to these lands, was one of the “pending problems we need to address quickly.”

Our public lands allow us to experience the majesty of the great outdoors, learn about our country’s history, and honor those whose cultural history dates back millennia. It’s now become imperative that we step up and fight so that future generations can enjoy these places, too.

Further Reading:

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How Politicians Are Using Taxpayer Money To Fund Their Campaign and To Sell Off America’s Public Lands

— by Matt Lee-Ashley, Guest Contributor at ThinkProgress-Climate

west land
CREDIT: AP PHOTO/REED SAXON

The recent Cliven Bundy debacle in Nevada put a national spotlight on the long-running, and long-failing, effort by right-wing Western legislators to seize federal public lands and either turn them over to the states or sell them to the highest bidder.

While the renewal of this so-called “Sagebrush Rebellion” has thus far been carried out with limited resources by part-time legislators like State Rep. Ken Ivory (R-UT), new research shows that its leaders are now using taxpayer money from at least 42 counties in nine Western states to advance an aggressive and coordinated campaign to seize America’s public lands and national forests for drilling, mining, and logging.

According to a ThinkProgress analysis, the American Lands Council (ALC) — an organization created to help states to claim ownership of federal lands — has collected contributions of taxpayer money from government officials in 18 counties in Utah, 10 counties in Nevada, four counties in Washington, three counties in Arizona, two counties in Oregon, two counties in New Mexico, and one county in Colorado, Idaho, and Wyoming. In total, county-level elected officials have already paid the ALC more than $200,000 in taxpayer money. A list of these counties and their “membership levels” can be seen on the ALC website.

Since its inception in 2012, the ALC has been working with the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a conservative front group backed by the oil and gas industry and billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch, to pass state-level legislation demanding that the federal government turn over federally owned national forests and public lands to Western states. So far, Utah is the only state to have signed a law calling for the seizure of federal lands, but Nevada, Idaho, Wyoming, and Montana have passed bills to study the idea and further action is expected in statehouses during 2015 legislative sessions.

Legal experts report that Utah’s law, and similar bills being advanced by ALC and ALEC are in clear violation of Article IV of the Constitution, are in conflict with the laws that established Western states, and would be overturned if ever tested in federal court.

As the American Lands Council has grown in influence and resources, its activities have received new scrutiny. ALC President Ken Ivory, for example, reportedly earned more than $40,000 from the organization in 2012 (his salary for 2013 has not yet been disclosed). According to the Salt Lake Tribune, Ivory’s wife, Becky, also receives payments from the ALC.

A recent fundraising email obtained by ThinkProgress also shows that at least one ALC member, Washington County, Utah Commissioner Alan Gardner, is using his government title and government email account to raise money for ALC’s lobbying efforts and training of political candidates.

The fundraising solicitation that was sent from Gardner’s official government email address on June 13 asks county governments to contribute $1,000 to become a “Bronze” member, $5,000 to become a “Silver” member, or $25,000 to become a “Gold” member of the ALC.  Gardner confirmed to ThinkProgress that he was the author of the email.

The fundraising solicitation says that up to $100,000 will be spent by ALC on a “Campaign Project” aimed at equipping candidates for federal, state, and county office with “materials and resources to build broad based Knowledge and Courage to compel Congress to honor its promise to us and our children to transfer title to the public lands….” Gardner’s email also reports that the funds will be used for lobbyists, a legal team, polling, and engaging the Federalist Society and the Heritage Foundation.

ALC’s use of county funds adds to the growing cost to taxpayers of the right-wing land seizure movement. The state of Utah, for example, has already spent more than $500,000 to study a takeover of federal land and has set aside an additional $3 million for legal fees to fight the federal government in court. In Idaho, when the Attorney General’s office questioned the legality of seizing federal lands, legislators in the state spent more than$20,000 on private counsel. In Nevada, a federal land seizure study cost taxpayers more than $66,000, while a special task force to study the issue in Wyoming cost taxpayers$30,000.

In addition to using taxpayer funds to advance unconstitutional bills to seize federal lands, the ALC also relies on financial support from the mining industry and fossil fuel interest groups. Americans for Prosperity, for example — another group financed by the Koch brothers — is listed as a “Bronze Member” of ALC. Mesa Exploration, a mining company whose recent proposal to build a potash mine in an area that the Donner Party crossed in 1846 was recently nixed by federal land managers, is also listed as a “Bronze Member” on ALC’s website.

Matt Lee-Ashley is a senior fellow and director of the Public Lands Project at the Center for American Progress. You can follow him on Twitter at @MLeeAshley.


This material [the article above] was created by the Center for American Progress Action Fund. It was created for the Progress Report, the daily e-mail publication of the Center for American Progress Action Fund. Click here to subscribe.

Over One Million Voices Signed On to Protect Our Public Lands

— by David Turnbull, Oil Change International

Our public lands are our lands, held and maintained by the Government in trust for the public at large, not the goliath corporations. And in support of that premise, over the last few weeks, we’ve seen some AMAZING response to our petitions to protect our public lands to prevent corporations from fracking our public natural resources. Over a million people from around the country came together to push for protecting our public lands from fracking. Oil Change International, along with our partners in the American’s Against Fracking Coalition, delivered comments from citizens all across our country directly to the White House and Bureau of Land Management in Washington D.C.

Here’s one of my favorite pictures from the event, showing the power of this coalition coming together:

This campaign was a landmark moment in the fight to protect our communities from the dangers of fracking and is already having an impact. The coalition started with a goal of gathering 200,000 comments and ended up with over a million, including over 600,000 calling for an outright ban of fracking on public lands. This is the largest number of comments calling for a fracking ban ever submitted to the Obama Administration.

It’s actions like this – and people like you – that will help us reclaim our democracy from the grip of the fossil fuel industry. So, we simply wanted to say: Thank you. Thank you for standing up, for raising your voices with us, and for demanding better from our leaders.

Together we’re pushing back against corporate influence and making sure our elected leaders know who they’re accountable to: the people they represent, not rich polluters. We’ll be watching the Bureau of Land management closely to make sure our public lands (and all lands) are protected from fracking and other fossil fuels.

Rest assured there will be more fights against dirty fossil fuels, but thanks to your recent efforts, we’ve now got an even stronger foundation.

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Oil Change International campaigns to expose the true costs of fossil fuels and facilitate the coming transition towards clean energy. We are dedicated to identifying and overcoming barriers to that transition.

We are a 501c3 organization and all donations are fully tax deductible.

Check out our blog at PriceOfOil.org and find out how much oil and coal money your Representatives take at DirtyEnergyMoney.com.

Tell the Bureau of Land Management: Ban fracking on federal lands

Tell the Bureau of Land Management: Ban fracking on federal lands

The Obama administration just released its first major fracking policy–the Bureau of Land Management’s proposed rules for fracking on 600 million acres of public land. And it’s even worse than we feared.1

In a major concession to the fracking industry and its lobbying efforts, the proposed rules are even weaker than previous drafts of the rules.2 3 And they do nothing to close Dick Cheney’s infamous “Halliburton loophole,” which exempts fracking from key parts of the Safe Drinking Water Act and the Clean Water Act.4

Of course, it’s become clear that there is simply no safe way to frack. So even worse than the specific concessions made to industry in the draft regulations is the assumption that fracking should be allowed to continue on federal lands despite overwhelming evidence that it endangers our air, water and climate.

The BLM is accepting public comments on its proposed fracking rules for 30 days. We need to let the administration know that these rules are totally inadequate. The administration needs to ban fracking on public lands – not cave to the industry and endanger our health and safety.

Submit a public comment telling the Bureau of Land Management: Ban fracking on federal lands.

An area of federal land larger than the entire state of Florida is currently under lease for oil and gas extraction, so this is one of the most important fracking policy decisions the Obama administration will make.5

Unfortuanately, every indication is that the White House is still putting the interests of oil and gas companies before the health and safety of American communities. The proposed regulations let the industry keep secret the toxic chemicals it injects underground by designating them as “trade secrets” without oversight from the BLM. The rules allow the industry to store contaminated waste in massive open pits, which can release dangerous air emissions and leak toxins into groundwater. And the rules do nothing to prevent the industry from fracking wells right next to homes and schools.

And of course, the harm fracking does to local communities is compounded by its significant contribution to the climate crisis.6 As the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere passes 400 parts per million–well beyond what many scientists say is safe–the Obama administration should be working to keep its promise to confront climate change, not encouraging the extraction of vast new reserves of dirty oil and gas.

Submit a public comment telling the Bureau of Land Management:
Demand that they BAN fracking on OUR federal lands.

Take-Action

1. Steven Mufson, “Obama administration issues draft fracking regulations,” Washington Post, May 16, 2013
2. Matthew McFeeley, “Obama Administration Caves To Fracking Industry in New Proposed Rules,” NRDC Switchboard, May 16, 2013
3. Mike Soraghan, “White House huddled with industry before changes to BLM fracking rule,”EnergyWire, April 12, 2013
4. Lauren Pagel and Lisa Sumi, “Loopholes for Polluters,” Earthworks, May 16, 2011
5. Amy Mall, “More than six percent of U.S. already leased for oil and gas: new NRDC analysis,”NRDC Switchboard, February 26, 2013
6. Joe Romm, “IEA’s ‘Golden Age of Gas Scenario’ Leads to More Than 6°F Warming and Out-of-Control Climate Change,” ThinkProgress, June 7, 2011

7 Deadly Amendments That Would’ve Protected Dirty Energy And Trashed The Climate

— by Ryan Koronowski, Tiffany Germain, Guest Blogger, Dan Weiss, Guest Blogger and Jessica Goad

Over the weekend, Senate Democrats passed a federal budget for Fiscal Year 2014. In order to do so, Senate rules allow for consideration of any amendment that is brought to the floor. Senators introduced hundreds of amendments, which resulted in a “vote-o-rama.”

Many conservatives offered amendments to undermine existing and potential public health safeguards, particularly those that would attempt to reduce climate pollution. Below are seven deadly amendments to curtail protection for our children’s health and heritage. As usual, these conservatives are focused on protecting dirty energy companies profits at the expense of public health.

  • Blunt #261: This amendment would have blocked future legislation to impose a carbon tax or fee to reduce industrial carbon pollution and raise revenue. Specifically, the amendment would create a “point-of-order” against any carbon tax measure that could only be overcome with a three-fifths vote of legislators. While it would have been a mostly symbolic move, the fossil fuel industry’s friends in the Senate are reiterating their opposition to government action on climate pollution. However, the impacts of climate change have already been felt across the country — in 2011 and 2012, the United States suffered from 25 climate related storms, floods, heat waves, drought, and wildfires that each caused at least $1 billion in damages, with a total price tag of $188 billion. The Blunt amendment would allow these damages and costs to grow unchecked. Result: FAILED 53-46
  • Coats #514: This amendment would have struck down key Clean Air Act protections by authorizing the President to exempt any industrial facility from complying with air toxics standards for two-year periods. Essentially, the amendment would have given a free pass to coal-burning power plants from EPA’s 2011 Mercury and Air Toxics Standards, which were put in place due to the well-documented health risks of mercuryarsenic, and the millions of pounds of additional hazardous chemicals. Methylmercury from coal pollution accumulates in fish, poisoning pregnant women and small children. Mercury can harm children’s developing brains, including effects on memory, attention, language, and fine motor and visual spatial skills. Upgrades to the aged and dirty coal plants will also significantly reduce harmful particle pollution, preventing hundreds of thousands of illnesses and up to 17,000 premature deaths each year. “The ‘monetized’ value of these and certain other health benefits would amount to $37–90 billion per year,” the Environmental Protection Agency determined. Republicans are once again trying to protect the dirty energy industry over our children’s health. Result: FAILED 46-53
  • Alexander #516: This would “repeal … the wind production tax credit.” The PTC provides a tax credit of 2.2 cents per kilowatt hour of electricity to encourage investment in clean wind energy. A CAP analysis determined that “wind power helps lower electricity prices.” Along with state renewable portfolio or electricity standards, the PTC has enabled “the wind industry … to lower the cost of wind power by more than 90% [and] provide power to the equivalent of over 12 million American homes.” A Navigant Consulting analysis predicted that eliminating the PTC would cost 37,000 jobs. Some argue that we should end tax provisions for clean technologies, including wind. However, this ignores the fact that the oil and gas industries have received $80 in support for every $1 for wind and other renewable energy sources over the past 95 years. In addition, the Alexander amendment would ignore the annual $4 billion in special tax breaks for big oil companies. Result: Did not come to the floor for a vote.
  • Inhofe #359: This amendment would “[prohibit] further greenhouse gas regulations for the purpose of addressing climate change.” This would have prevented the EPA from enforcing the Clean Air Act as interpreted by the Supreme Court, which ruled that EPA is required to regulate carbon and other climate change pollutants that endanger public health and welfare. EPA proposed the first carbon pollution standard for new power plants in 2012. After it is finalized, EPA must set limits on carbon pollution from existing power plants — responsible for two-fifths of U.S. carbon pollution. Such reductions are essential to stave off the worst impacts of climate change. Result: FAILED 47-52
  • Cruz #470: This radical amendment would have limited the amount of land owned by the federal government in each state. It is yet another attempt by Republicans to give federal public lands over to states or private companies so as to better exploit them, and is in line with recent efforts of House Republicans to sell off “millions of acres” of public lands to private companies. Despite what this amendment implies, public lands provide tremendous economic benefits to local communities. For example, recreation and other uses of the 500 million acres of public lands managed by the Interior Department contributed two million jobs and $385 billion in economic activity in 2011. Result: Did not come to the floor for a vote.
  • Vitter #544: This amendment would have dismantled the president’s authority to protect America’s historical and natural treasures under the Antiquities Act. Since it was passed in 1906, 16 out of 19 presidents have used the act to protect places like the Statue of Liberty, Muir Woods, the Grand Canyon, Zion, and Acadia. Just this week it was reported that President Obama would create five new national monuments including Delaware’s first-ever national park. The Vitter amendment would have kept the president from answering local communities’ calls to protect such places for future generations. Result: Did not come to the floor for a vote.
  • Murkowski #370: This amendment states that it would “increase oil and natural gas production on Federal lands and waters,” despite the fact that oil production is at its highest level in 20 years. Additionally, the Congressional Research Service noted that over the last four years oil production from federally-owned areas was higher than in 2008, despite the fact that companies are choosing to “follow the oil” to shale plays on non-federal lands. Murkowski’s amendment isn’t the only one that would have sought to fulfill the wish list of the oil and gas industry — Sessions #204 would have opened the economically and environmentally vibrant coasts of Virginia and North Carolina to dangerous oil and gas exploration. Result: Did not come to the floor for a vote.

On Monday March 18, the GOP released its “Growth and Opportunity Project” or “autopsy” report that tried to determine why Republicans lost in 2012, and how to prevent future defeats. While the report did not mention climate or energy — or deal with much policy — it did talk demographics and messaging. The report urged that the Republican Party should change its tone, “… especially on certain social issues that are turning off young voters.” They need to “promote forward-looking, positive policy proposals that unite young voters,” and “be conscious of developing a forward-leaning vision for voting Republican that appeals to women.” And finally, they stress the importance of “addressing the concerns of minority communities.”

In their effort to do the bidding of big oil and other major polluters, the authors of these seven deadly amendments blithely ignore the findings and recommendations of this autopsy. The groups most harmed by and concerned about climate change are most supportive of addressing the problem: young people, women, and minority groups.


This material [the article above] was created by the Center for American Progress Action Fund. It was created for the Progress Report, the daily e-mail publication of the Center forAmerican Progress Action Fund. Click here to subscribe.