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01/22/2013

Bold Second Term Opportunities for our National Treasures

On Monday, the President set forth a bold agenda in his Inaugural Address for his second term in front of a National Mall filled with supporters, including my own family.  From a more balanced approach to the public good and economy, to the end of wars abroad, to climate change and the protection of our national treasures, President Obama did not mince words, pull punches, or go gently into the night. 

We, the people, still believe that our obligations as Americans are not just to ourselves, but to all posterity.  We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations.  Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires, and crippling drought, and more powerful storms.  The path towards sustainable energy sources will be long and sometimes difficult.  But America cannot resist this transition; we must lead it.  We cannot cede to other nations the technology that will power new jobs and new industries – we must claim its promise.  That is how we will maintain our economic vitality and our national treasure – our forests and waterways; our croplands and snowcapped peaks.  That is how we will preserve our planet, commanded to our care by God.  That’s what will lend meaning to the creed our fathers once declared.

Thrilled to see climate addressed in his speech, the Sierra Club was quick to applaud President Obama’s comments about his commitment to respond to climate change.  We will, as Executive Director Mike Brune reflects in his statement, work hard to hold polluters accountable, and as the nation’s largest national environmental organization, will work with our 2.1 million members and supporters to do so.

Similarly, we congratulate President Obama for the amazing environmental and conservation victories during his first term:  Four new national monuments, protecting wilderness from private interests at Drakes Estero, and barring oil and gas drilling from over 11 million acres of land in Alaska’s National Petroleum Reserve Area. In fact, our membership awarded the administration with thousands of thank you notes for these issues.  Recognizing these fine achievements, we also feel that the President has just begun to establish his conservation legacy, which, at the moment, has been unfortunately eclipsed by his drilling legacy.

As it turns out, Presidents Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and George W. Bush all protected more public lands during the term of their administration than has President Obama (both administratively and congressionally)—thus far.  Lucky for America’s heritage, Obama has four more years to safeguard our treasured places, and fulfill that commitment to “maintain our national treasure.” 

In a recent report by the Center for American Progress, the authors point to the imbalance between fossil fuel development on public lands and protecting those lands. So far, the Obama administration has “leased approximately 2.5 times more land to oil and gas companies than it has permanently protected for the American people and future generations to use for recreation, clean air and water, and historical purposes.”

As President Obama aptly suggested in his Inaugural Address, our government should work to preserve public lands for the enjoyment of all Americans, not for short-term exploitation and degradation by special interests.

Clearly, in the 112th Congress it was extraordinarily difficult to work with lawmakers on constructive steps forward for public lands protection, much less anything.  Recognizing some of the deep divisions that remain in the 113th Congress, as the president reflected on Monday, President Obama does not need Congress to protect lands under the Antiquities Act of 1906.  According to CAP’s report, the Act has been used by 16 of 19 presidents since the act’s passage. The Obama administration should grant extremely popular national monument protections to public lands such as these:

In his first term, President Obama oversaw a huge drilling expansion in the U.S, both on private and public lands. This expanded drilling will not help average Americans, it will not reduce the cost of gasoline or of heating one’s home; it will only serve to damage a commonly held American resource and exacerbate climate disruption. Instead, and as the president suggested in his address, the economic value of sustainable, protected public land and investments in clean energy far outweigh the net benefit of drilling. This is particularly true when weighed against the inevitable losses such exploitation creates through the pollution of dirty fossil fuels, destruction of habitat and biodiversity, losses to tourist and outdoor recreation industries, and negative impacts to climate solutions.

We look forward with hope at the great opportunity President Obama has laid out for his second term. We hope he will live up to his promise to the American people to protect our lands, our wildlife, and our climate.

Written with significant contributions from Lands Team intern, Claire Price

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