In an executive order issued Jan. 27, President Joe Biden mandated a one-year moratorium on new oil and gas leases on public lands. Quietly contained in that order (executive order 14008) is a “30 by 30” program, an aggressive – even radical – push by environmental and climate change activists to put 30 percent of the land and water in the United States under permanent protection by 2030.
Their stated purpose is to conserve more wildland to reduce the effects of climate change and slow species loss. Ecologists contend that conserving 30 percent of the world’s land and water will protect about 75 percent of the Earth’s species.
The U.S. is currently conserving about 26 percent of its coastal waters but only around 12 percent of its land in a largely natural state, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.
To reach the “30 by 30” target will require conserving an area twice the size of Texas, more than 440 million acres, within the next 10 years. The White House has not yet specified who will oversee the initiative or identified which lands or waterways might be affected.
Skeptics find the goal laudable, but also vague and unattainable. The USGS came up with the 12 percent already conserved number, but even the Biden administration acknowledges it needs to better understand what qualifies as “conserved.”
In a March 15 letter to Biden, 64 Republican members of Congress, including Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah and Rep. Mark Amodei of Nevada, expressed concern about the lack of details accompanying the goals, and the inability of Biden’s Interior Secretary, Deb Haaland, to answer questions about the initiative in her confirmation hearing.
The letter notes that the federal government manages 640 million acres of land, over 90% of which is west of the Mississippi. With significant federal land ownership, western states will be disproportionately impacted by policies set to achieve the “30 by 30” goal.
Haaland’s appointment was newsworthy because she became the first Native American to lead the Interior Department. A supporter of the Green New Deal, Haaland is a staunch progressive who wants to stop all oil and gas leasing on public lands. In 2019, she was sponsor of House Resolution 835 – “30 by 30” mirroring legislation, “with a long-term goal of conserving 1/2 of the planet…”
Reaching “30 by 30” in the U.S. will require a huge increase in protected areas. Recently, the Biden administration clarified private lands are included in this initiative, setting up issues for potential federal overreach. Subjecting private landowners to this nebulous federal program is a breach of private property rights.
As far as federal land goes, the quickest path to increasing the number of acres conserved would be to create new national parks, monuments, and wilderness areas to add to existing acres. Biden has authority under the Antiquities Act to create and restore national monuments on land or sea, and unlike national parks, no approval by Congress is required.
President Obama established two marine monuments off New England and expanded two marine monuments in the Pacific. He also established the 1.35 million-acre Bears Ears National Monument in Utah.
President Trump withdrew 2 million acres from Bears Ears and the nearby Grand Staircase-Escalante monument. He opened the New England marine monument to fishing.
Restoring those monuments is expected to be Biden’s first “30 by 30” action.
Additionally, the National Park Service has identified more than 11,000 tracts of land near park boundaries for purchase, comprising 1.6 million acres.
Even if the Park Service acquired it all, it would barely impact the more than 400 million additional acres required to conserve 30 percent of U.S. lands.
State and local governments, the energy, minerals and agriculture sectors, private property owners, tribes, sportsmen and recreationists need their voices heard in the “30 by 30” process.
Jim Hartman is an attorney in Genoa. E -mail firstname.lastname@example.org.