Hundreds of state and local elected officials are calling on President Joe Biden to lead a speedy, aggressive national effort to combat the climate and extinction crises by protecting 30% of America’s lands and 30% of its waters by 2030.
An open letter to the administration from 450 officials representing 43 states comes as Biden’s team works to dismantle former President Donald Trump’s legacy of rolling back environmental regulations and weakening protections for federal lands and wildlife. Biden also made a campaign promise to establish the 30% by 2030 target, which is in line with the United Nations’ plan for protecting biodiversity, and the president is expected to issue an executive order on it any day now.
A 2018 study from the Center for American Progress found that about 12% of the U.S. landmass and 26% of the nation’s ocean waters were protected.
“Our nation is at a pivotal moment,” the letter said. “We cannot continue down the current path and watch as our nation’s land, water, and biodiversity disappears. Instead, we pledge to confront America’s nature crisis and pursue a national goal of 30x30. Together, we can and must protect nature for generations to come.”
The letter, organized by the left-leaning League of Conservation Voters, includes six specific actions that the signatories say should accompany the 30 by 30 goal, including upholding Native American tribal sovereignty and supporting local and private landowner conservation efforts.
Utah is among the states where Biden’s effort to increase land protections is likely to materialize first. As part of an executive order he issued on his first day in office to “protect public health and the environment and restore science,” Biden ordered a review of Trump’s rollbacks of the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments in southern Utah.
Ten Utah Republican officials, including its entire six-member congressional delegation, issued a joint statement last week decrying Biden’s review of Trump’s monument cuts, saying it “will only deepen divisions in this country.”
Trump administration officials, with support from many GOP lawmakers, framed monuments designated under the Antiquities Act of 1906 as examples of sweeping federal overreach that block natural resource development. The law gives presidents the authority to protect land and waters via executive action.
Utah state Sen. Jani Iwamoto, a Democrat representing Salt Lake City, is one of three state lawmakers who signed the letter urging more protection of the nation’s lands and waters. She told HuffPost by phone on Monday that while public lands and monument designations are a contentious issue in Utah ― the federal government owns 63% of the land in the state ― she supports maintaining and safeguarding them for the whole nation to enjoy.
“All I can say is I do have a different view of the monuments,” she said.
Rep. Deb Haaland (D-N.M.), Biden’s pick to lead the Interior Department, is expected to oversee the review of Trump’s rollback of the size of the Utah monuments, the first step toward Biden’s promise to restore the sites. Haaland has been a vocal critic of Trump’s attacks on national monuments, and last year led a coalition in introducing a resolution to set “30 by 30” as a national goal.
“Our communities deserve fresh air to breathe, clean water to drink, and a livable planet, but right now inaction on climate change is putting everything at risk, particularly in communities of color,” Haaland said at the time.
“Globally, the loss of nature ― accelerated by climate change ― is putting up to one million species on the path to extinction,” she added, referencing a 2019 United Nations report.
If Haaland is confirmed as Biden’s interior secretary, she would play a key role in carrying out Biden’s promise to establish new protected sites to combat global climate change and safeguard ecologically important landscapes.
The 30 by 30 initiative has gained momentum at the local level. California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) signed an executive order in October making his state the first to pledge to the goal. Maine’s statewide climate action plan, which Gov. Janet Mills (D) released last month, includes a 30% land conservation target. Lawmakers in other states, including New York and South Carolina, have introduced legislation to establish similar goals.
Safeguarding additional lands and waters would have sweeping benefits, from sequestering carbon and providing refuge for imperiled species to helping prevent new infectious diseases like COVID-19 from emerging.
“I think what we’ve seen is a nationwide groundswell behind an ambitious and equitable conservation agenda,” Alex Taurel, the conservation program director at the League of Conservation Voters, told HuffPost. “Biden ran and won on the most ambitious climate and nature conservation agenda in history, including committing to 30 by 30, and so we’re seeing this letter as further proof that Biden’s agenda reflects the will of the people of the country, their elected representatives, and what they want to see to preserve nature for future generations.”