President Theodore Roosevelt once said, “There can be nothing in the world more beautiful than the Yosemite, the groves of the giant sequoias and redwoods, the Canyon of the Colorado, the Canyon of the Yellowstone, the Three Tetons; and our people should see to it that they are preserved for their children and their children’s children forever, with their majestic beauty all unmarred.”
Since Yellowstone was established in 1872, our parks have been a refuge for people looking to connect with nature and themselves, and the National Parks Service Centennial next year should be a celebration of this legacy. Be it parents bringing their children for a day hike along the Appalachian Trail, or veterans enjoying the beauty of a country they served by camping in Yosemite, our national parks are something we must continue to protect—not give away to the oil and gas industry. Yet Congress is currently considering a proposal to do just that.
Earlier this month, the House of Representatives approved the North American Energy Security and Infrastructure Act, a comprehensive energy bill. Tucked inside is the deceptively named National Energy Security Corridors Act, which would amend the Minerals Leasing Act to strip the requirement for Congressional approval of oil and gas pipeline construction within our national parks. If this legislation were to be signed into law, we could expect to see companies like the ones fracking in the Marcellus Shale to construct pipelines through places like the Appalachian Trail (which passes through Shenandoah and Great Smoky Mountains national parks).
When President Obama rejected the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, he put an end to the “all of the above” energy policy, and rightly pointed out that if we are to prevent the worst effects of climate change, we need to begin leaving some dirty fuels in the ground. Congress should be working with him to pass legislation that protects public health, our communities, our climate, and our national parks from the dangers of dirty fuels. (For exampke, a bill from Senator Jeff Merkley (D-Oregon) would ban the extraction of fossil fuels on public lands.) But by permitting the oil and gas industry to construct pipelines through our parks, Congress is building a bridge to 19th century energy sources at a time when we must be looking towards the future.
There's another quote from President Theodore Roosevelt I often think of: “There are no words that can tell the hidden spirit of the wilderness that can reveal its mystery, its melancholy, and its charm.” Indeed, it is on account of this mystery, this melancholy, and this charm that millions of people visit our parks every year. Congress should celebrate our parks and what they offer, not exploit them.
While H.R. 8 passed the House of Representatives earlier this month, the Senate has not yet taken the legislation up. But, that does not mean we can rest easy—in fact, we should be vigilant, and call our Senators to urge them to protect our national parks, not destroy them.
The creation of our national parks is often referred to as America’s best idea; allowing pipelines to be constructed through them may be our worst.
Dan Chu is the director of Sierra Club's Our Wild America campaign.