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09/14/2012 02:30 PM     print story email story  

Republican Energy Policy Puts National Parks at Risk News

The amount of land protected by governments to slow down species loss and conserve eco-systems critical for reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and replenishing the world's fresh water supply grew by an area the size of Russia over the past 20 years.

But far more must be done to reach 2020 targets set by the United Nations (UN), says the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

Approximately 12.7% of the world terrestrial area was protected by 2010 (6.6 million square miles) compared with 8.8% in 1990, says IUCN. The UN's goal is for 17% by 2020, which is an area about twice the size of Argentina or India.

"These rich natural areas are very important for people, who rely on them for food and clean water, climate regulation and reducing the impacts of natural disasters," says Julia Marton- Lefevre, head of IUCN.

This data has particular relevance amid a report from the Center for American Progress (CAP) showing that US land thought to be protected may be subject to development under the proposed Republican platform for fossil fuels energy development -- pretty much everywhere, as they have envisioned for years.

Oil and gas development could happen – and in some cases is already happening – in 42 national parks, including the Everglades, Mesa Verde and Grand Teton, reports CAP.

See the map below, created with data from the National Park Service.

CAP Public Lands

There are patches of privately owned land within many of these parks that could entitle owners to proceed with exploration.

"These existing mineral rights are either inholdings – where an individual owns a piece of property completely surrounded by a park unit – or are non-federal subservice mineral rights, which are frequently referred to as 'split estate' where the federal government owns the surface of the land and a private entity owns the right to access the  minerals below the surface. Private individuals or companies owned these mineral rights before the parks were created and have the legal right to access them."

While pretty much everyone American agrees and energy security should be a national priority, most of them will also agree that you shouldn't mess with protected land.

So Mitt Romney's advisers are rushing to do damage control, saying that "nobody's talking about parks and monuments" when it comes to the party's sweeping oil and gas development ambitions.

The article below, which originally appeared on the ThinkProgress blog, details how Romney's team is responding to the controversy.


By Tom Kenworthy, Center for American Progress

Testifying before a House subcommittee today, Mitt Romney’s chief energy adviser assured lawmakers that the candidate’s energy plan would not lead to oil and gas drilling in U.S. national parks and monuments.

“Nobody’s talking about parks and monuments,” said Harold Hamm, CEO of Continental Resources, Inc, who is also the lead architect of the Romney energy plan unveiled last month. That plan proposes giving states control over energy development on federal lands, a dramatic and unprecedented shift in the management of hundreds of millions of acres of public lands.

Hamm’s assurance about not drilling in national parks is one good step. But there are still many other questions about Romney’s plan for energy development on public lands left unanswered.

Like many of his policy positions, the Romney energy plan and its proposed changes for control over drilling on federal lands is quite vague on details. The plan says the state management would not include “lands specifically designated off-limits,” but did not identify which lands would fall into that category. 

What about the more than 100 million acres in the U.S. protected by Congress since 1964 as wilderness? What about national wildlife refuges? What about national forest and rangeland areas with interim wilderness protections pending decisions by Congress on whether to include them in the full wilderness system? What about wild and scenic river corridors? What about areas of critical environmental concern overseen by the Bureau of Land Management? What about national recreation areas?

In a report released yesterday based on data provided by the National Park Service, the Center for American Progress identified 30 units of the national parks system that could be drilled for oil and natural gas. A dozen park service units already have oil and gas operations.

Daniel J. Weiss, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress Action Fund, referenced that report during his testimony to the energy and power subcommittee today. Trading federal oversight of drilling on public lands for state control could lead to oil and gas development in Everglades National Park and the Flight 93 Memorial in Pennsylvania, explained Weiss.

Clearly alarmed by the potential political ramifications of drilling in some of America’s most revered landscapes, GOP members of the subcommittee rushed to explain that Romney’s plan envisions no such things. 

“No one’s talking about putting an oil well on a sacred site like” the Flight 93 Memorial, said Rep. Morgan Griffin (R-Va.). “The Romney plan specifically excludes lands that are designated as off limits.”

That’s good to hear. But there are still plenty of other details within Romney’s plan that haven’t been addressed.


Tom Kenworthy is a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress Action Fund.


Reader Comments (1)


Date Posted:
09/15/12 02:42 PM

"No one's talking about putting an oil well on a sacred site like the Flight 93 Memorial..." I don't think anybodies quite worried about that.

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