Western Energy Alliance hosted a livestream discussion with former United States Senator Cory Gardner to talk about the impacts President Biden’s ban on oil and natural gas leasing will have on public lands conservation funding.
Last year, Sen. Gardner co-authored and helped pass the Great American Outdoors Act (GAOA), which relies almost exclusively on royalties paid from oil and natural gas production on public lands and waters to fund $2.8 billion in conservation. The money reduces the National Park Service’s maintenance backlog, permanently funds the popular Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), and repairs infrastructure on other public lands. Because of a compromise forged by Sen. Gardner on competing public lands bills, GAOA was signed into law by President Trump last August.
The following are excerpts from the conversation with Sen. Gardner.
The Great American Outdoors Act was one of your signature accomplishments. You put a lot of work into that and you helped get it passed. Can you tell us a little bit about what it does?
“The Land and Water Conservation Fund and this idea that would help support our national parks and catch up with the national backlogs were to sort of ideas that seemed to be getting a lot of attraction. I had been a sponsor on the Land and Water Conservation Fund and a sponsor on the national parks bill. And you could tell that standing alone there wasn’t the support for either. The politics of the moment or the coalitions that weren’t quite lined up to get one passed.
“I think it was General Eisenhower who once said, ‘How do you solve a big problem? Well, you solve a big problem by making it even larger.’ So what we did was combine the two together and had a larger bill with a bigger impact, and that is actually the bill that got 70, nearly 75 votes in the United States Senate to pass. I think it’s a signature accomplishment for this country, and really it’s only possible because of the people who work with our resources who then turn around and put it into more resource conservation. That’s the only reason it can happen.”
Interior Secretary Deb Haaland just announced a $1.6 billion distribution under the Great American Outdoors Act to various states, national parks, and public lands conservation. How do you think it’s working one year in?
“What I want to make sure happens is that it’s spread out around the country, that it’s accomplishing the goal we set out for it. There are areas in the Western Slope of Colorado, campgrounds that I saw, forest service areas, and of course our national parks that are going to need some of this. But it ought to be more than preserving and keeping people out. We need to make sure it’s utilized to bring people in. To increase access, to get people to enjoy our lands. Those who otherwise wouldn’t have a chance to get out and see it. They need to be able to have that opportunity. I think that’s what these dollars can be used for. In Colorado that means a quarter of a billion dollars that can be coming back to the state thanks to this legislation.”
Is there much oversight of Land and Water Conservation Fund grants once they go out to the states for local programs like environmental justice projects?
“This is a trust, right. This is a trust between the energy industry, that if they produce this and they pay the tax, that those dollars are going to go back into conservation of the resource. That was a promise that was made by the government. It was a promise made by the energy industry to be a part of this. It’s a promise to the American people and that has to be fulfilled and upheld, and that is why oversight is so important.”
Right now, the Biden Administration is threatening the basic source of funds for conservation. When you look at it, contributions from coal are there, though much lower than from oil and natural gas. After that the funds the funds dry up; 100% for the Land and Water Conservation Fund.
“I think there’s a couple of ways we should address this. When the Biden Administration wants to stop leasing or ban fracking or to do something like that, there ought to be a fiscal note attached to it so we know the impact on conservation that decision will have. In the State of Colorado, if you introduce a piece of legislation, that piece of legislation will have what’s called a fiscal note. That fiscal note will say it will cost $10,000 to implement this program. It’s going to cost $500,000 to implement this program. We ought to have a fiscal note on every decision that impacts those tax dollars being paid into the Great American Outdoors Act to know that executive order, that piece of legislation, that contract that you just denied will cost this country in terms of conservation ‘X’ many millions of dollars. I think that’s the real story that we need to start pushing because a cut to oil and gas is cutting our own selves from a strong conservation future.”
When we’re subsidizing wind and solar production, is there any way they’ll turn around and fill in the $2.8 billion that oil and natural gas contributes to conservation annually?
Is there something the industry can do to help advance the conversation on conservation?
“We have to be proud of the work that we do. When someone is out on that trail that is made possible by the Land and Water Conservation Fund and they’re supporting a ban on energy development, it’s a non sequitur. It makes no sense. You need to be able to connect the dots because if it weren’t for that, the trail wouldn’t be there, it wouldn’t happen.”
“It’s pointing out the work you do, and it’s point out what happens if Biden’s ban were to succeed. For every decision he makes to stop access, how that’s going to hurt a national park, how that’s going to hurt the national forest or the Bureau of Land Management. I think that’s a connection that needs to be made.”