Have you heard the one about the billionaire real estate developer who couldn’t get permission to bulldoze 436 acres of woodlands in upstate New York for two “luxury” golf courses? When he couldn’t find another developer to take the parcel off his hands, he gave it to New York State, which in 2006 ill-advisedly named it: Donald J. Trump State Park. By all accounts, it’s a sad, neglected place that really should have been called the Donald J. Trump Gigantic (and Possibly Illegal) Tax Write-off.
Donald Trump’s namesake park perfectly represents his vision for public lands: If you can’t squeeze a profit (or at least a tax deduction) out of them, then what good are they? No American president has done less to protect our public lands and more to destroy them. Trump has the distinction of being the only president to see the amount of protected public lands actually decrease during his term. And no other administration has come close to matching his for its ruthless fixation on managing our public lands for private profits.
So, as we head toward 2020, the question isn’t “who would be a better steward for our public lands than Donald Trump?” Anyone running for president can credibly make that claim. We can do much better. On January 20, 2021, we need to inaugurate a president with a vision for managing our public lands that recognizes not only how important it is that we protect them but how essential they are to protecting us. How we manage them will be a key part of dealing with the climate and biodiversity crises.
So far, I’ve seen only a handful of the Democratic presidential candidates offer details about how their administrations would manage our public lands and waters. Of those who have, the one action most of them agree on is that there should be no new fossil fuel leases on public lands, which (let’s not forget) are the source for a quarter of our nation’s carbon pollution. Some other important actions I’ve seen at least two or more candidates commit to:
- Restoring public lands protections (including national monument designations) that were reduced or repealed by Trump. (Inslee, Sestak, Steyer, Warren)
- Ensuring that state and local governments have meaningful input into public lands policies that affect them, as well as work to protect public lands jointly with Tribal nations (whose land, let us never forget, this originally was). (Inslee, Warren)
- Promoting responsible renewable energy development on public lands and waters. (Biden, Inslee, Steyer, Warren)
- Working to increase the amount of public lands and waters that are permanently protected from development (including the Arctic). (Bennet, Biden, Inslee)
Those commitments add up to a vision for public lands that would be a dramatic reversal of Trump’s policies. Every one of them is a position that any candidate challenging Trump should adopt.
But I think we need to go further: Every single one of Trump’s potential opponents should explicitly acknowledge the profound connection between taking action on the climate crisis (which polls show is a high priority for voters) and protecting our public lands by ending all fossil fuel and other development. If they can’t do that, they don’t deserve to be taken seriously. This is an issue where we don’t have the luxury of settling for “better than the worst that ever was.”
Paid for by Sierra Club Political Committee, www.sierraclub.org, and not authorized by any candidate or candidate committee.