Public lands are our unique inheritance and it’s essential that the federal government listen to the public when managing these public resources. Without NEPA, Americans would lose their ability to speak up and voice concerns about unsafe and haphazard land management practices.
Our public lands – millions of acres of forests, mountains, rivers, and streams – are a part of who we are.
From our national parks and monuments to our wildlife refuges, national forests national monuments, our public lands don’t belong to billionaire developers and resource extraction companies – they belong to all of us. They exist for the good of all, not the profit of a few.
Powerful special interests and their political allies, however, are waging an aggressive campaign to sell off our public lands in the west and limit environmental review, which would result in clear-cut National Forests, strip mines in National Parks, and polluted rivers and streams. To do this, they are working to enact laws that require Congress to give millions of acres of public lands over to the states. Once in state hands, those lands can be sold without our consent.
Putting our national public lands in state hands would lead to massive sell-offs of prized American acreage for drilling, mining and logging. Unlike our national government, states are not obligated to preserve our wildlands, carry out the same environmental reviews, or even keep them public. Western states have already sold a whopping 31 million acres (about the size of Louisiana) of their own state lands to resource extraction and development; selling off more newly acquired lands would bring in additional revenue to state coffers.
NEPA protects our public lands from these dangers. Before an oil company can drill or a mining company can start digging on public lands, overseen by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), NEPA requires the federal government to carry out a detailed environmental review of the potential consequences on the environment and the health of surrounding communities. Only the most unintrusive uses of public lands may proceed without NEPA review.
At almost every step in the development of the Bureau of Land Management’s land-use plans and their associated NEPA documents, the public has an opportunity to make its voice heard. Through the E-Planning portal, people with an interest in the public lands can participate in land-use plan creation online. The inclusion of federally-mandated public comments further ensures that the Bureau of Land management remains transparent and accountable to the public.
When Exxon-Mobil wants fast-track permits to drill for oil in the Alaskan National Wildlife Refuge, NEPA says not so fast. When the U.S. Forest Service tried to claim that the risk of wildfires justified its plan to allow enough timber to fill more than 2,000 logging trucks a year, conservationists sued under NEPA and a federal judge labeled the logging proposal “incomprehensible.”
Who Manages Our Public Lands?
America’s federal public lands – owned equally by all Americans – cover over 600 million acres – that almost a quarter of all land in the United States. There are four federal public land systems: the National Forest System, the National System of Public Lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the National Park System, and the National Wildlife Refuge System. Together, BLM, the US Forest Service, National Park Service, US Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Wilderness Preservation System are collectively responsible for managing outdoor recreation, livestock grazing, mineral development, and energy production on all federally managed public lands.
Our public lands are big business. Outdoor recreation, for example, is a multi-million dollar job-generating industry. Other activities, however, are far less forgiving on these public lands and our environment. There are currently more than 63,000 oil and gas wells on BLM public lands generating over $5 billion in annual profits. That’s why it’s critical that federal agencies continue to carry out thorough environmental reviews ensuring our public health and shared public lands will not be irreparably damaged.
Putting our national public lands in state hands will lead to massive sell-offs of prized American acreage for drilling, mining, and logging. We will lose access to these wild places where we enjoy the freedom to hunt, camp, fish, and hike. If we do not stand strong against this public land takeover movement, lands we cherish will soon belong to high-dollar buyers who will carve up, pollute and develop what was once wild.
Once our lands are in state control, they’re gone forever: Unlike our national government, the states are not obligated to preserve our wildlands or even keep them public. Western states have already sold a whopping 31 million acres (about the size of Louisiana) of their own state lands to resource extraction and development; selling off more newly acquired lands would bring in additional revenue to state coffers. But even if state governments truly wanted to keep our lands open to the public, they would be overwhelmed trying to pay the new costs of upkeep and fighting wildfires on newly acquired lands. In order to maintain balanced budgets, western states would need to raise taxes or sell off iconic national treasures to the highest bidder.
Damage to land and wildlife is inevitable: If our lands are given to the states, we’ll see a huge increase in the number of polluting oil wells, mines and industrial sites across the West. New roads, fences and forest clearings will further damage wildlife habitat and interrupt migration routes. In places like southern Utah and Nevada, fossils and Native American artifacts could be destroyed by new development and forever lost to scientific discovery and the historic record.