Democratic Primary Candidates (2020) on Federal Lands Issues

This post is intended to start an information source and discussion on where Democratic primary candidates stand on federal lands issues. The WaPo has a very useful section called “Where Democrats Stand”. Most of the time, federal lands issues would probably not show up, but the WaPo did ask a question “would you end leasing for fossil fuel extraction on federal lands?” Here’s the link. If others can find a handy place where candidates’ other federal lands policy positions can be found, or add to the WaPo findings, please post in the comments. Note: I believe that we can talk about candidates’ positions without saying mean things abouot them or each other.

BACKGROUND A significant amount of the nation’s fossil fuel production happens on federal lands and waters — 42 percent of coal, 24 percent of crude oil and 13 percent of natural gas in 2017. The extraction and combustion of these fuels accounted for nearly a quarter of U.S. carbon dioxide emissions between 2005 and 2014, according to a study from the U.S. Geological Survey study. The Keep It In the Ground Act by Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) would end new federal leases for fossil fuel extraction on federal lands and waters. The Obama administration issued a moratorium on coal leasing in 2016, but it was reversed by the Trump administration, an action that has led to an ongoing legal battle.

Note that Senator Bennet, the only candidate from a state with substantial federal lands, did not respond. I did not check the WaPo’s figures, but they seem consistent with this CRS report.

The argument seems to be that if we didn’t produce that coal, oil, and gas on federal land, the GHG’s would not be emitted. It seems to me that experience has shown that we would substitute from private land or import. Perhaps that would lead to increased prices (reduced supply) and therefore the amount of GHG’s emitted would thereby be reduced. However, the need to raise prices for essential heat, electricity and transportation fuel (having the pain felt by those with least discretionary income) to reduce demand doesn’t seem like big vote-getter, so it’s not clear to me exactly what the logic path is.

Biden says “banning new oil and gas permitting” but perhaps not coal? Not clear.
Bloomberg says “I will immediately end all new fossil fuel leases on federal land.”
Buttigieg “supports” ending new leases for fossil fuel extraction. Perhaps this is more realistic than “immediately ending” an activity that is provided for in statute.
Gabbard says “end the leasing of fossil fuel extraction on federal lands and watere.”
Klobuchar and Patrick also “support ending new leases.”
Sanders wants to keep everything in the ground, which includes federal lands.
Tom Steyer says “Keep publicly-owned oil, coal, and gas in the ground by stopping the expansion of fossil fuel leases and establishing a careful process to wind down federal onshore and offshore fossil fuel production.” This sounds a little different than just having new leases, but not sure. Also not sure you need a “careful process” to wind it down if you stop issuing leases.
Warren says “As president, I would issue an executive order on day one banning all new fossil fuel leases, including for drilling or fracking offshore and on public lands.”
Yang supports ending leasing for fossil fuel extraction on federal lands, his campaign told The Post.

Two candidates responded with specific goals for federal lands and renewable energy:
Bloomberg includes “expedite clean energy development in federal lands along with offshore wind.”
Warren pledges “to generate 10% of our overall electricity needs from renewable sources offshore or on public lands.”

Of course, ramping up clean energy on federal lands comes with environmental concerns as well.

There’s also a link to a fracking ban here. Here the candidates are more diverse. Perhaps Bennet has the most nuanced “I believe natural gas has a role to play” in transitioning to net-zero emissions “as long as it is developed in a way that protects the health of our communities” and Klobuchar, perhaps, the oddest “So as president in my first 100 days, I will review every fracking permit there is and decide which ones should be allowed to be continued and which ones are too dangerous.”

11 thoughts on “Democratic Primary Candidates (2020) on Federal Lands Issues”

  1. Here’s a link to a story that captures the D candidates’ thoughts on wildfire (and to some degree, on forest management). I’m glad to see an increase in the Forest Service’s budget as part of some candidates’ response – assuming those funds go to reducing fire risk and restoring our national forests (which can be in the eye of the beholder).

  2. Actually, it seems pretty clear that some candidates don’t even understand the wildfire problems, much less the solutions. Pretending that if we could ‘magically fix’ the climate, we wouldn’t have any forest problems, is not a valid solution to California’s wildfire problems. In fact, it seems that some candidates don’t want to address the actual question, at all.

    Not only does the Forest Service need more funding, it needs more permanent ‘boots on the ground’. Not much more will get done with inexperienced people doing timber work for just 6 months out of every year.

    Sadly, Congress seems willing to let ‘whatever happens’, happen, as long as they don’t have to spend more money. As it is, what has Congress done lately to increase active beneficial forest management? It looks like we need more firestorms and fatalities before Congress will act in a bipartisan way.

  3. You hear all the time about the need for natural gas to “transition” to renewable energy. Here’s a response to that:

    “It is no coincidence that the PR blitz comes amid an avalanche of unfavorable developments that should make us question whether natural gas should still be considered a natural choice for power generation.

    First, there’s the fact that the heat-trapping properties of methane are contributing to climate change, which is accelerating much faster than previously thought.

    Plus, a growing number of U.S. cities and states are committing to 100 percent clean energy portfolios over the next 20 to 30 years, which by definition means zeroing out gas use.

    And finally, despite record production of natural gas and its current low price, reports indicate that renewable energy is about to become a formidable competitor in cost.

    The tipping point comes as the natural gas industry desperately seeks to tip the scales of energy investment its way for decades to come by locking in a frenzy of infrastructure investments in new power plants and pipelines.”

    It looks like all the candidates would at least stop “new” oil and gas developments that would lock us in. That would put us on a glide path toward renewables that could always be reversed if there is new information about a future supply shortage. Leading with a prohibition on federal lands seems like a no-brainer.

    And I think I would vote for Yang on the fire issue. His answer is clearly the least boilerplate soundbite and focuses on the right issues. (Of course with the Montana primary in June, most of these candidates’ positions would be irrelevant to voters here.)

  4. Jon the article said..

    “On the hopeful side, there is mounting evidence that the faster we can switch to electric end use at home, in offices, factories and the transportation sector, the faster we can reduce our global warming emissions. That makes the abandonment of environmental protections by the Trump administration and the PR campaign of industry unconscionable. ”

    But we don’t have the technology and infrastructure to do that yet. I plan to drive my car, use my tankless water heater, and gas furnace and so on for at least 10 years- so I don’t have to buy new, with other environmental impacts. And I will hopefully be able to afford to, which many people won’t. That’s the meaning of the word “transition”. Of course, non carbon liquid fuels might come along also, but the fact is, we don’t know and neither does anyone else.

    I don’t think that this “anti-natural gas as a transition fuel” adds up rationally, which usually means there are underlying political reasons of some kind.

    • Like saving the planet? “But we don’t have the technology and infrastructure to do that yet.” That’s maybe a chicken/egg argument – if we lock in more gas production, why work on the new technology? But I trust that someone can figure out the details about giving up our gas heat and tell us the truth about it (but I’m KNOW the gas industry has underlying political reasons).


    “About one-quarter of U.S. oil is produced from federal lands, a figure that’s held fairly steady for much of the last decade as drilling has increased on both public and private lands.

    There’s been longstanding strong demand among private companies to acquire oil and gas leases on lands controlled by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, said Mike Penfold, a retired state director at the agency.

    What’s different under Trump, he said, is the rollback of environmental rules intended to strike a balance between development and conservation.

    “This is another example of the Trump administration undoing four or five decades of thoughtful laws to protect the public lands,” Penfold said. “The benefits of this go to the oligarchs who put more money in their pockets — not other public land users or the taxpayers.”

    (Mike Penfold was appointed state director of BLM for Montana and Dakotas in 1980.)


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