Can She Do That? Elizabeth Warren’s Campaign Goals and Oil and Gas on Public Lands

Elizabeth Warren addresses the crowd during an organizing event for her 2020 presidential campaign, April 16 in the hangar at the Stanley Marketplace in Aurora.
Photo by Philip B. Poston/Sentinel Colorado

This is one of those topics on which I’m looking for a little help from our more legally knowledgeable Smokey Wire folks.

Here’s a story from the Western Wire.

U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) launched a public lands debate this week after unveiling her plan to prohibit drilling for new oil and gas development on federal lands both onshore and offshore in order to “end our public lands’ contribution to climate change.”

“I want to make you a promise—that is, on the first day of a Warren administration—on the first day, I will sign a moratorium that our public lands there will be no more new drilling or mining,” Warren said in Aurora, Colo. Tuesday evening.

On Monday, Warren announced her plans for public lands on Medium, outlining her goals on eliminating natural resource development on public lands, expanding renewable electricity generation on public lands, and restore two national monuments in Utah to their Obama-era boundaries.

“It is wrong to prioritize corporate profits over the health and safety of our local communities. That’s why on my first day as president, I will sign an executive order that says no more drilling — a total moratorium on all new fossil fuel leases, including for drilling offshore and on public lands (emphasis in original),” Warren wrote.

It seems to me that an Executive Order can’t override federal laws that allow activities on public lands. But I could be wrong.  Legal opinion?

I also think it’s kind of interesting that she assumes that wind and solar’s impacts are not deleterious, or that those impacts are OK and we can figure out the places that it won’t be a problem.  But most interesting is the idea that producing oil and gas “prioritizes corporate profits over health and safety” but corporate profits are OK when they involve wind and solar.  Personally, as a user of oil and gas, I prefer any corporate profits from production that I use to be generated in the US… otherwise I’d be supporting the corporate profits of Saudis or Canadians. Not that there’s anything wrong with either country (well OK, the Saudis are not my favorites) , but I’d rather be getting the jobs and taxes here.  I’m more inclined to support policies that reduce our use of oil and gas, not so much production.

A few other interesting quotes from the WW piece:

We can achieve this goal while prioritizing sites with low impact on local ecology but high potential for renewable energy generation. My administration will make it a priority to expedite leases and incentivize development in existing designated areas, and share royalties from renewable generation with states and local communities to help promote economic development and reduce local dependence on fossil fuel revenues,” Warren wrote.

At a separate event earlier Tuesday, Warren suggested opening more public lands for recreation in a “sustainable manner.” That includes concessions for the sale of food in order to boost local economies, the AP reporter Nick Riccardi tweeted.

Despite her plan for public lands, other Democrats were less enthusiastic. Former U.S. Sen. Mike Gravel of Alaska promised “release a public lands plan that will make Elizabeth Warren look like Ryan Zinke,” his campaign manager told E&ENews.

But whether Warren or any other presidential candidate could implement a halt on drilling without conflicting with federally mandated quarterly lease sales would likely trigger questions about legality and a raft of lawsuits.

In Western states like New Mexico, the end of quarterly lease sales would threaten a revenue stream that drove more than a billion dollars to education alone in 2018, endangering progress for a state that has only recently seen dramatic improvements in many educational benchmarks due to increased revenues and investments thanks to oil and gas development in the state.

I also wonder what she means by “opening more public lands for recreation”. Aren’t they pretty much all open unless closed?

7 thoughts on “Can She Do That? Elizabeth Warren’s Campaign Goals and Oil and Gas on Public Lands”

  1. The New Mexico situation sounds like the situation in Oregon and Washington where counties became heavily dependent on receipts from federal timber harvest to pay for roads and schools, and when the bottom fell out of that in the mid-1990s, it’s been somewhat of a struggle for several counties since then. So the discussion often comes up that linking state revenues to extractive industries may not be the wisest thing to do, particularly when loss of other important ecosystem services occurs directly and indirectly as a result.

  2. The press release in it’s entirety was made via Medium

    I can’t comment regarding the legality of a president denying access to public lands. I do recognise the “inaccessible” public lands she’s talking about. Large portions of forest and BLM are surrounded by private land and become recreation lands only for those adjoining landowners, it’s a big complaint of the hunting community, lack of access to the public lands we own.

  3. Thanks, Som! We’ve talked about that problem here and in other places,

    I think the two main solutions are 1) getting the Justice Department to prioritize ROW cases and 2) buying ROWs from landowners. I’m thinking the Justice Department will always have a lot on its plate and there are lots of other uses for tax dollars (maybe set priorities in LWCF, but isn’t that a Congressional thing?), so I’d be interested in seeing more details of this idea.

  4. I do know that the USFS has a process to remove lands from mineral removal that does not require Congressional approval, I do not know the limits of executive order. I would suspect that the BLM also has a process since they put tracts out for bid to extract.

  5. Maybe like federal timber, federal oil and gas could be banned from export. Also like federal timber, this resource should be used wisely, not eliminated.
    The rural communities of the Pacific Northwest have paid a heavy price to see unnecessary protection of our federal forests, just to watch them systematically burn up.
    I hope a sensible candidate comes along.

  6. “Can she do that?”
    An executive order can certainly prohibit agencies from doing what they would otherwise be “allowed” to do, but not what they are required to do by law. The quoted article refers to “federally mandated quarterly lease sales.” That seems to be a reference to the Mineral Leasing Act requirement for quarterly sales of parcels that are “available” for lease. That presumably refers to the leasing availability/suitability decision we have discussed previously, and an executive order could probably stop further designations. It might take more to redesignate currently available but unleased lands (if there are such things) as unavailable.


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