Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) on Monday unveiled a vision to put America’s public lands to work in the fight against climate change, vowing to ban new fossil fuel leases and dramatically boost renewable energy on federal lands and waters.
The proposal is a rebuke of President Donald Trump, whose record on public lands includes offering up millions of federal acres for oil and gas leasing, some for as little as $1.50 per acre, proposing to open nearly all U.S. waters to offshore drilling, and leading the largest rollback of national monuments in U.S. history.
“The Trump Administration is busy selling off our public lands to the oil, gas and coal industries for pennies on the dollar, threatening the health and safety of our local communities and pouring an accelerant on our climate crisis,” Warren said in an email statement. “We can’t allow corporations to pillage our public lands and leave taxpayers to clean up the mess.”
If elected, the Massachusetts senator promised to issue an immediate executive order imposing a moratorium on new oil, gas and coal leases, both on federal land and offshore. The policy would set a goal of generating 10% of the nation’s power from renewables on public land, a nearly tenfold increase from today.
Warren, who has a 99% lifetime score from environmental group League of Conservation Voters, appears to be the first presidential contender to outline a detailed public lands policy. The proposal comes ahead of a three-state campaign tour this week that includes stops in South Carolina, Colorado and Utah, where Warren is likely to push the initiative.
“It’s not enough to end our public lands’ contribution to climate change,” Warren wrote in an announcement on Medium. “We have an enormous opportunity to make them a part of the climate solution, and for both economic and environmental reasons, we should take it.”
Approximately one-quarter of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions come from fossil fuel extraction on federal lands, according to a government report released by the Trump administration in November.
Warren’s proposal includes reinstating an Obama-era rule that limited the amount of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, that can be leaked, flared and vented from oil and gas operations on federal and tribal lands. The Trump administration gutted the rule last year, which environmentalists saw as one of many handouts to the industry.
Warren has also promised to restore protections for all lands impacted by the Trump administration’s wildly unpopular national monument rollback, and to boost the outdoor economy by making entry to national parks free for all Americans and unlocking at least half of the nearly 10 million federally controlled acres in the West that are surrounded by private land and inaccessible to the public. Additionally, the plan calls for fully funding land management agencies and the popular Land and Water Conservation Fund, which uses offshore fossil fuel revenue to acquire land and establish and protect parks, wildlife refuges, forests and important wildlife habitat.
If elected, Warren also will consider using presidential powers to establish new sites to protect fragile ecosystems and critical habitat, a campaign aide told HuffPost.
The Trump administration has largely treated the federal estate as a piggy bank. In late 2017, it carved 2 million acres from a pair of national monuments in Utah, opening the door for oil, gas and mineral development, and is eyeing additional cuts to at least eight other protected sites. It has embraced opening Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, one of America’s last true wild places, to oil drilling, even though analyses have shown doing so is unlikely to generate anywhere near the economic benefits the administration has claimed.
In a February press release titled “Energy Revolution Unleashed,” the Interior Department touted a record $1.1 billion in oil and gas lease sales last year. And in a slickly produced video published Sunday, Energy Secretary Rick Perry boasts of a “new American energy era” that he said “will move us forward, bringing unprecedented benefit to the world.”
The United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned in a report late last year that world governments have just 12 years to halve global carbon emissions in order to avoid catastrophic warming that would bring $54 trillion in damages.
Still, the Trump administration has pressed ahead with its fossil fuel-centric “energy dominance” agenda, working to end what it claims was an Obama administration war on oil, gas and coal. It has proposed sweeping budget cuts to federal agencies responsible for studying climate change and conserving land and wildlife, including the Interior Department and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. It twice called on Congress to all but eliminate funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund, even while claiming the program remains a priority. And it was forced to back away from a plan to drastically hike entrance fees at 17 of America’s most popular national parks.
Warren is among the more than 100 Democratic lawmakers who co-sponsored the Green New Deal, a sweeping climate resolution unveiled in February by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.). The proposal, which was voted down last month by Senate Republicans, outlined lofty goals of reaching net-zero emissions by 2050, building climate-resilient infrastructure and reversing income inequality by creating high-wage green jobs. Supporters stressed that public lands would be key to its success. Protecting federal lands and waters and “restoring and protecting threatened, endangered, and fragile ecosystems” were key goals.
For inspiration, backers of the Green New Deal movement looked to the Civilian Conservation Corps, one of several federal job-creation programs that were part of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal. At the height of the Great Depression, hundreds of thousands of young men went to work building bridges, parks and trails, and planting 3 billion trees in national forests and throughout the Great Plains.
It is a concept that Warren has embraced as part of her new initiative.
“I will recruit 10,000 young people and veterans to jumpstart a 21st Century Civilian Conservation Corps — and increase the budget of AmeriCorps’ one-year fellowship program to fund it,” she wrote on Medium. “This will create job opportunities for thousands of young Americans caring for our natural resources and public lands, deepening a lifelong relationship with the great outdoors.”
Environmental groups applauded Warren for making the proposal.
“It’s great to see Elizabeth Warren put out such a thoughtful vision for the future of public lands so early on, and I hope that more Presidential contenders will follow suit,” Evan Weber, political and policy director of the Sunrise Movement, the climate activist group that stormed Democratic leaders’ offices late last year to push the plan, told HuffPost in an email.
Janet Redman, the climate director for Greenpeace USA, said in a statement that Warren’s promise of an executive order on fossil fuel extraction is a “big deal” that shows “a clear willingness to lead in taking on the fossil fuel industry, and making climate action a top priority in office.”
Monday’s announcement adds to policy initiatives Warren has rolled out in recent weeks, including universal access to high-quality child care, an “ultra-millionaire tax” on the wealthiest Americans, and a plan to break up tech giants like Google and Facebook.
This article has been updated to include reactions from environmental groups.