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MEMO: Looming deadline suggests April could be a big month for public lands and climate news

Administration is creating a historic opportunity to demonstrate that conservation and climate action are two sides of the same coin.

The Biden administration is leading several critical agency efforts that constitute a comprehensive shift toward a holistic conservation, climate and community-centric approach to managing public lands. While the fossil fuel lobby may complain at each turn, the changes meet the profound environmental challenges of the 21st century head on, and enjoy vast public support. From public lands conservation to reforming oil and gas extraction, protecting old growth forests and responsibly scaling up clean energy production, the Biden administration is creating a historic opportunity to demonstrate that conservation and climate action are two sides of the same coin. The Wilderness Society has urged adoption of these changes for years, and the looming deadlines created by the Congressional Review Act suggest we may in fact see several announcements in the coming weeks.  


Public Lands Rule puts conservation on a level playing field with drilling and mining 


 The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) last March announced its draft Public Lands Rule, which for the first time places conservation on equal footing with uses like drilling and mining. Though Congress mandated that the agency take a balanced approach in 1976, the BLM has largely focused on extraction to this point, with just 13.6 percent of its 245 million-acre estate enjoying permanent protection from development like mining and drilling. The rule creates a consistent way of identifying which places to conserve as “Areas of Critical Environmental Concern” (ACEC - the BLM’s designation for lands with natural or cultural significance), prioritizing lands that are intact and resilient to climate impacts. It also provides direction on how to manage ACECs to preserve biodiversity, an especially pressing need as human-caused habitat loss worsens. The rule also strengthens Tribal consultation and incorporates traditional ecological knowledge in conserving lands. For more detail on the draft rule, click here.  


Renewable Energy Rule would make public lands a driver of clean energy production  


Last June, the BLM announced a proposal to scale up the pace of clean energy development on public lands where projects make sense and have a minimal impact on species and communities, while helping to leverage public lands to meet our clean energy goals. The draft rule reduces rents and fees on solar and wind energy, balancing the scales after decades of fossil fuel companies being favored by the agency. The draft rule was welcomed by TWS because it aligned solar and wind regulations, reduced barriers in a responsible way, and gave more flexibility in how federal regulators prioritize and process applications for solar and wind projects. This rule works in tandem with the Western Solar Plan, a region-wide “smart from the start” plan that puts guiding lines on the map, identifying areas on BLM public lands where companies can propose solar projects, as well as areas that are entirely off-limits for solar development. A comment period on the plan is running until April 18th. The final renewable energy rule could come any time. To read our reaction to the draft rule when it was issued last year, click here.  


 Onshore Oil and Gas Rule reduces government handouts to fossil fuel companies 


 A proposed BLM oil and gas rule from last summer reforms the woefully outdated federal oil and gas program that allows fossil fuel companies to drill and mine on public lands. These reforms put guardrails on what lands are offered for oil and gas leasing, limit participation of bad actors, and make fossil fuel companies pay a fairer share for extracting public resources in addition to covering the cost of clean-up and restoration after drilling is finished so communities don’t have to continue footing the bill. The BLM oil and gas rule received widespread support, collecting over 260,000 public comments over the course of its 60-day public comment period, with 99 percent in favor of the rule.  For more detail, read our reaction to the draft rule here. A final rule could come anytime.  


 Celebrating a slew of other positive achievements for public lands 


 The Biden administration is developing a historic record of achievements. In addition to what’s discussed above, it’s ramping up other initiatives such as national monument designations that will conserve more than 24 million acres of public lands and it has channeled more than $18 billion dollars toward conservation projects. Late last year, it rolled out a proposed national forest plan amendment that would help protect up to 112 million acres of old growth and mature forests managed by federal agencies. The administration is also reforming the National Environmental Policy Act to prioritize climate change and equity. The administration also enacted landmark climate legislation and a bipartisan infrastructure law that together will invest billions in ecosystem restoration, park maintenance, and water safety while reducing our nation’s climate emissions by an estimated 40 percent.  

For more information, contact Tony Iallonardo at