Our public lands and waters must be part of the climate change fight
Editor’s note: We are updating this blog post as President Biden takes new actions that target the climate crisis and prioritize equity and land protection. Last update: 01/28/2021
After four years of climate denial from our nation’s top leadership, a conservation ally who respects science is headed to the White House.
President Joe Biden and millions of voters grasp the gravity of climate change, and we now need his administration to take smart and fast action before the window of opportunity closes. We are calling on the Biden-Harris administration to implement just and efficient policies to tackle the climate crisis head-on.
And we know exactly how they can get the job done: by better managing our public lands and waters.
For years, our public lands, which cover nearly one-third of the country, have been the drilling grounds for the fossil fuel industry. The resulting climate emissions and pollution fuel the climate crisis, damage landscapes, threaten wildlife and directly impact our health and well-being—especially in Black, Brown and Indigenous communities, and working-class communities of all backgrounds.
To tackle climate change, we need to end unchecked fossil fuel extraction on public lands and prioritize their protection and expansion. These lands are essential for the adaptation of people and species to a changing climate.
Here’s how President Biden can use public lands and waters to fight climate change in 100 days:
1. Suspend leasing of public lands and waters for fossil fuel development
President Biden should immediately freeze the leasing of our public lands and waters to the fossil fuel industry. During this pause, the federal government must fast-track the creation of a transition plan for achieving net-zero emissions from public lands by 2030. It’s crucial that this plan includes a just and equitable transition for communities that rely on fossil fuel extraction, including investments in training and new job creation in renewable energy, conservation and restoration, and other industries.
UPDATE: On Jan.27, President Biden declared a moratorium on new oil and gas leasing on public lands.
2. Protect 30% of U.S. lands and waters by 2030
We call on Biden to issue an executive order establishing a goal of protecting 30% of our lands and waters by 2030 and directing a federal interagency action plan to meet that goal, consistent with the commitment in the Biden-Harris climate change plan. Biologically rich, continuous networks of public lands play an important role in absorbing climate-changing emissions, protecting clean water and healthy soils, and ensuring communities and wildlife thrive.
UPDATE: President Biden issued an executive order establishing a goal of protecting 30% of our lands and waters by 2030 and directing a federal interagency action plan to meet that goal.
3. Pull the Tongass National Forest off the chopping block
The new president should act immediately to save Alaska’s Tongass National Forest by directing the Forest Service to reverse the Roadless Rule exemption for Alaska and reinstate protections from logging and other forms of development. The Tongass, the world’s largest intact temperate rainforest plays a crucial role against the climate crisis. Its concentration of large, old-growth trees acts as one of the nation’s best carbon sinks,” absorbing and trapping carbon dioxide—the primary greenhouse gas warming up the planet.
UPDATE: President Biden has requested a review of the Trump rule-making process that excluded the Tongass National Forest in Alaska from the Roadless Rule.
4. Prioritize environmental justice across government
Following the lead of environmental justice leaders, Biden must carry through with his commitment to focus on environmental and climate justice across all government and direct agencies to take concrete steps to address the causes and impacts of environmental racism and injustice. For too long, Black, Brown and Indigenous communities have been deliberately denied decision-making power, which has resulted in laws, policies and planning that disproportionately expose them to the worst impacts of climate change and pollution. These communities have been leading the environmental justice movement and Biden should take meaningful action to support their fight and leadership.
UPDATE: President Biden issued an executive order directing agencies to ensure they are prioritizing racial equity in their work. This action signals a much-needed shift to incorporate racial and environmental justice across government and in the fight against climate change.
5. Stop drilling plans in the Arctic Refuge
We call on President Biden to take immediate action to stop all activities aimed at opening the Arctic Refuge to drilling. His immediate action is critical to protecting the refuge from the flawed and possibly illegal lease sale that was held in the last days of the Trump administration and from dangerous seismic testing efforts that could soon move forward to search for oil and gas reserves. Drilling on this land would release more climate change emissions, trample the human rights of Indigenous peoples and damage the landscape and wildlife that make this refuge so special.
UPDATE: Biden has temporarily frozen all oil and gas leasing activities in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and ordered a new analysis of potential environmental impacts.
6. Protect Bears Ears and Grand Staircase Escalante
In 2017, President Trump illegally reduced the size of Bears Ears by roughly 85 percent, and Grand Staircase-Escalante by half to make room for mining as well as extractive oil and gas drilling that fuel climate change. President Biden needs to swiftly restore protections to these national treasures as he has promised in his Plan for Tribal Nations. He should also work in consultation with the sovereign tribal nations of the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition on collaborative management and protections in line with their original vision for a 1.9 million-acre national monument with robust co-management.
UPDATE: President Biden has ordered a review of the Trump administration's rollbacks and management changes to Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante.
7. Protect the Boundary Waters from a toxic mine
Biden should immediately halt all leasing and permitting for the construction of the Twin Metals mine near the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in Minnesota and re-initiate the process to establish watershed-level protections. The proposed sulfide-ore copper mine would contaminate the area's pristine watershed and thriving ecosystem that provide refuge for species threatened by climate change. The mine would also harm the Boundary Waters’ boreal forest that helps to absorb heat-trapping carbon dioxide.
8. Halt border wall construction
The new president should immediately stop the construction of the US-Mexico border wall, rescind the waivers of federal, state and local laws that enabled its construction, begin the process of removing the most harmful barriers and implement efforts to restore the land. This enormously expensive and wasteful project fails to meet its stated goal and is damaging a region already strained by climate change. Wall construction has severed important wildlife corridors crucial to species that rely on large connected landscapes in order to survive and adapt to the ecological pressures prompted by climate change. Contractors, given free rein to bypass environmental regulations, have also dynamited Native American burial grounds, drained precious desert springs, and scarred protected wild lands. While some of the destruction may be irreversible, substantial mitigation and restoration efforts will be critical.
UPDATE: On his first day in office, Biden signed an executive order to immediately stop the construction of the US-Mexico border wall.