Indefinitely Wild

Elizabeth Warren Could Be the Public Lands President

The Democratic candidate released her comprehensive plan for saving our national parks and public lands. It's impressive, even if it never comes to fruition.

(Elizabeth Warren for President)
Photo: Elizabeth Warren for President

Elizabeth Warren just released an ambitious policy proposal detailing what she would do to protect public lands and improve public access to them if she’s elected president. 

“America’s public lands are one of our greatest treasures,” the Senator from Massachusetts begins. “They provide us with clean air and water, sustain our fish and wildlife, and offer a place where millions of Americans go every year to experience the beauty of our natural environment.”

Warren goes on to promise that, on her first day as president, she'll sign an executive order immediately halting all new fossil fuel leases on both public lands and offshore. She says she’d also reinstate a rule that limited the methane emissions created by oil and gas production, as well as the Obama-era clean water rules that the Trump administration is in the midst of tearing apart. 

The candidate says she’ll increase the amount of renewable energy produced offshore and on public lands to 10 times its current amount—bringing it up to 10 percent of our nation’s total electricity needs. She also promises to use the Antiquities Act to restore the Bears Ears and Grand Straircase-Escalante national monuments to their former sizes. 

Warren intends to address the funding shortfall on public lands by making Land and Water Conservation Fund spending “mandatory,” but gives no specifics on what amount of money that might entail. (There’s a bill in front of Congress right now that proposes restoring LWCF funding to the $900 million it was authorized in 1978. That bill does not correct the amount for inflation, which would be $3.6 billion in today’s money.)  

Warren also identifies the $11.6 billion (pre-shutdown) maintenance backlog in national parks and says she’ll “eliminate the infrastructure and maintenance backlog on our public lands in my first term.” To achieve that, she proposes a revival of Franklin Roosevelt’s Civilian Conservation Corps, that would be filled with “10,000 young people and veterans” tasked with rebuilding the crumbling infrastructure in parks and on public lands. 

In a proposal that will prove controversial in conservation circles, Warren proposes eliminating entrance fees at national parks. “There’s no better illustration of how backwards our public lands strategy is than the fact that today, we hand over drilling rights to fossil fuel companies for practically no money at all — and then turn around and charge families who make the minimum wage more than a day’s pay to access our parks,” she writes. 

Warren also tackles a previously little-known issue that could reap massive benefits, saying she’ll improve access to often inaccessible public lands in the West. “I commit to unlocking 50 percent of these inaccessible acres, to grow our outdoor economy, help ease the burden on our most popular lands, and to provide a financial boost across rural America,” she states. In so doing, she acknowledges the economic importance of the outdoor recreation industry and reaches out to hunters and anglers, who have been on the forefront of advocacy on this issue. “Outdoor recreation accounts for $887 billion in consumer spending each year and creates 7.6 million sustainable jobs that can’t be exported overseas,” she writes. 

“We must not allow corporations to pillage our public lands and leave taxpayers to clean up the mess,” writes Warren. “All of us — local communities and tribes, hunters and anglers, ranchers and weekend backpackers — must work together to manage and protect our shared heritage.”

“America’s public lands belong to all of us,” she concludes. “We should start acting like it.” 

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