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Babbitt Calls For Balance Between Oil & Gas and Conservation

Posted: 02/14/2013
By: Megan Hooker

On Tuesday, February 5, 2013, former Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt gave a speech to the National Press Club calling for more balance between the amount of public land leased for oil & gas and the amount set aside for conservation. (Read the prepared speech, "On Equal Ground.") Babbitt noted that the U.S. has a long history of protecting our federal public lands and rivers through the National Park System and Wilderness and Wild and Scenic Rivers Acts, but that the 112th Congress was the first Congress since World War II to fail to pass legislation that protects our public lands. 

Babbitt described a trend since 2001, where the amount of public land being leased to the oil and gas industry far outweighs the amount of land being set aside for conservation. He noted that the recent stalemate in the 112th Congress has continued this trend, and called upon President Obama to take action to bring protection of our public lands on equal ground with oil and gas leasing. Noting that the President is not powerless in the face to Congressional stalling, Babbitt encouraged President Obama to use his executive powers to evoke the Antiquities Act to designate protected federal lands to bring things back into balance. 

Conservation protections on our public lands protect free-flowing rivers and water quality, and also support a healthy recreation economy throughout the country. Oil and gas extraction on our public lands is putting pressure on many of the rivers that American Whitewater and our partners have worked hard to protect. In Utah's Green River Basin, we've seen a significant amount of public lands surrounding this iconic river leased to speculative oil and gas development, while existing Wilderness Study Areas are left impacted, rather than protected from associated road development and light pollution. On the Colorado's Yampa, San Juan, and Dolores Rivers, oil and gas interests have aggressively pushed the administration to open more public lands to resource extraction, and acquired significant water rights for use in hydraulic fracturing, threatening river corridors that meet the criteria for Wilderness or Wild and Scenic River protections. 

One of American Whitewater's founding principles includes protecting the wilderness character of waterways through conservation of water, forests, parks, wildlife, and related resources. Several of the 30 bills that languished in the 112th Congress are ones that American Whitewater either supports or worked to develop–including protections for Washington's Olympic Peninsula, Middle Fork Snoqualmie and Pratt Rivers, Oregon's John Day River, and portions of Montana. We're hopeful that the 113th Congress will pass locally developed and supported legislation like these bills, and also appreciate the Obama Administration's support and encouragement of community-based efforts to balance how our public lands are developed and conserved.  

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