From first Native American leader to Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante boundary changes.
The national parks, wildlife refuges and national recreation areas overseen by the U.S. Department of the Interior have been little-appreciated as climate solutions, even though they’re crucial sinks for greenhouse gas emissions. But Interior lands are also part of the nation’s climate problem, since they hold vast reserves of fossil fuels that, when extracted and burned, generate climate pollution.
President Joe Biden began dismantling some pro-drilling policies within hours of being sworn in, but applying a climate-action mindset to day-to-day decisions, not only at Interior but also throughout the federal government, will take much longer and could prove much harder. With public lands accounting for nearly a quarter of the nation’s climate pollution, the new administration’s success — and the durability of its agenda — depends partly on clearing away obstacles from the Trump era.
Confirmation of U.S. Rep. Deb Haaland to lead the department
“Whoever becomes secretary has an opportunity to combat climate change, to take this 25% [of the nation’s] carbon that our public lands are emitting right now and eliminate that.”
Biden needs 51 votes in the Senate to confirm Haaland, so as long as Democrats hold together, she should overcome GOP opposition.
Adding climate considerations to a public lands leasing program previously based on ‘energy dominance’
But Jeremy Nichols, climate and energy director for WildEarth Guardians, said shifting the overall course will be like trying to turn around a runaway freighter.
“What it’s going to take is more than just issuing edicts and orders and directives,” he said. “It’s going to take the Interior Department leadership actually interacting with the people in the entire department who implement the policy and building a new level of trust and buy-in on this cultural shift.”
Restoring Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments
New political leadership in the region has brought new support not just for restoring the old boundaries, but for expanding them even beyond the original proposal of the five tribes behind Bears Ears. It will be key to restore the co-management role for Indigenous people that Obama included in the proclamation creating the monument but that Trump had scrapped.
Sarah Bauman, executive director of the Grand Staircase Escalante Partners, a conservation-advocacy organization dedicated to the 25-year old “science” monument west of Bears Ears, pointed out that restoring the Grand Staircase boundaries dovetails with past congressional action safeguarding the coal-rich area from mining, and it aligns with the Biden administration’s conservation plans.
Cleaning up after William Perry Pendley at the Bureau of Land Management
Pendley is accused of guiding key decisions in land-use master plans that determine where acreage will be devoted to drilling, recreation or protecting habitat for decades — many of which cleared the way for oil and gas mining at the expense of conservation.
“Those [BLM leaders] should be at the table in D.C. where the decisions are being made and the budget’s being approved,” said Jesse Prentice-Dunn of the Center for Western Priorities. “If you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu, and those folks right now are on the menu.”
Restoring a culture that values science-based decisions
In an email to InsideClimate News, the agency described a routine in which, “we regularly review the state of knowledge of climate science, and develop and maintain best practices for using global climate models. We also provide interpretations of potential impacts that can be used for practical planning and policymaking purposes.”
That ethic underpins the 30-by-30 executive order Biden signed on his first day in office, which is based on the idea of protecting 30% of the nation’s land and waters by 2030 to fight climate change and biodiversity loss.
Joro Walker, a Salt Lake City-based attorney with Western Resource Advocates, recognizes that will be tough, since USGS estimates that just 12% of U.S. lands and 23% of U.S. oceans are strongly protected now.
“Plainly there’s a lot to be done,” Walker said. “When you think about addressing climate change, and the catastrophic outcomes that will occur if we don’t, then you need to think boldly.”