A proposed new energy bill expands mining and fossil fuel production at the expense of our public lands, hurting our national parks and some of the most irreplaceable resources they protect. Let’s not let it become law – the long-term price is too great.
The U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill March 30 that includes mining and oil and gas provisions that set our nation’s environmental progress back decades and unnecessarily puts the future and health of our national parks and communities in jeopardy. NPCA is now working hard to prevent the bill’s passage in the Senate.
Known as H.R. 1, the Lower Energy Costs Act is anti-conservation at its core, prioritizing drilling and mining on public lands above all other recreation and natural and cultural resource protection by fast-tracking these extraction activities. It makes extraction the dominant use of public lands and all but ends long-standing policy of multiple-use of our public lands.
National parks do not exist in isolation. What happens outside a park’s borders can dramatically impact the air, water and wildlife inside a park itself. Mining and oil and gas development in and around national parks can pollute the air and water, destroy fragile wildlife habitat, and jeopardize visitor experiences and safety, hurting the economies of local communities that rely on park tourism. Oil and gas development also exacerbate the effects of climate change, which is already taking a devastating toll on our parks and surrounding communities.
Over the past several decades, NPCA has successfully advocated against various oil and gas leases and mining proposals that would have irreparably harmed national parks. These victories could be overshadowed by future damage if these proposals are passed.
The Lower Energy Costs Act should be a nonstarter for anyone who wants to preserve our national parks and everything they protect. Here are five reasons why:
1. The act would worsen climate change
Every one of our more than 420 national parks is experiencing the effects of climate change. Record floods, severe storms and hurricanes have destroyed communities, shut down businesses and ripped through our parks. These proposals would make matters worse, further fueling the climate crisis and the devastating disasters that come with it.
The Lower Energy Costs Act would deepen our nation’s dependency on fossil fuel energy, slowing the benefits from our efforts to transition to clean energy, such as wind and solar.
If enacted, hundreds of thousands of acres of public lands and waters would be vulnerable to mining and oil and gas development, with little regard to the effects these activities would have on our national parks, communities and climate.
As our country strives to solve the climate crisis that is quickly reaching a critical tipping point, this bill sends us in the wrong direction, proposing to lease and build industrial mines on some of the wildest and most irreplaceable landscapes in America.
2. The act would gut existing environmental laws
Even worse, the Lower Energy Costs Act would undercut bedrock environmental laws that address the impacts of climate change on our environment and give people a voice in how their public lands are managed.
In the past, because of these laws, we’ve avoided unnecessary environmental damage, such as increased carbon dioxide emissions and downstream pollutant damage around vulnerable communities.
If passed, the rollbacks would not only stifle the voice of the public but also allow the government and industries to ignore the impacts on our national parks, setting our environmental progress back decades. The bill also includes proposals to repeal portions of the Inflation Reduction Act — legislation that already provides critical funding and resources to protect people’s health and parks from the worst effects of the climate crisis.
3. The act would pollute air and water
The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that 40 percent of the watersheds in the western United States are already contaminated by pollution from hard rock mines. For decades, mining and drilling activities across the country have wreaked havoc on our environment and communities, polluting the air we breathe and water we drink. The Lower Energy Costs Act would make matters worse, opening up swaths of public lands for unabated mining and oil and gas drilling.
Mining operations can create toxic runoff that flows into nearby streams, rivers and lakes. Even small amounts of contamination can threaten public health and our parks’ fish, plants and wildlife. These chemicals can poison drinking water and pose serious human health risks for years.
“Banning mining activities in the region’s watershed will protect the broader park ecosystem now and for years to come.” – Christine GoepfertSee more ›
Water gives life to our national parks, shaping land and sustaining plants and animals. In two-thirds of the 360 national park sites with rivers or streams, the waters are impaired. Most of the pollution affecting park waters comes from activities outside of park boundaries, such as mining.
Much of the country’s air pollution stems from extracting, developing and burning fossil fuels from oil and gas infrastructure and operations. While most pollution does not originate in national parks, it can travel hundreds of miles from its source, thereby affecting parks and nearby communities.
In fact, nearly every single one of our more than 420 national parks is plagued by air pollution. Air pollution also worsens community health, drives up healthcare costs, and makes it harder for children to learn and play and for adults to work.
4. The act would harm wildlife
Our national parks protect some of our most iconic and endangered wildlife. But these species don’t recognize boundaries and often move in and out of the parks to feed, mate and migrate. Mining and oil and gas development decrease the acreage of intact lands and waters, fragmenting wildlife connectivity across landscapes. As larger ecological wildlife corridors are obstructed and separated from the lands outside of parks, many species won’t be able to survive.
From Acadia to Big Bend, national parks offer some of the darkest and clearest night skies in the country, providing nocturnal wildlife and other species the natural dark they need to navigate, mate and hide from predators. Mining, drilling and other land-disturbing activities increase artificial brightness of the night sky and disrupt these natural processes.
5. The act would damage visitor experience and safety
Millions of visitors travel to our national parks each year to enjoy unspoiled landscapes and panoramic views, experience incredible solitude and learn about the people and stories that have shaped our history. They don’t expect to see and hear oil rigs, loud compressors and heavy truck traffic roaring through the landscape. The Lower Energy Costs Act would allow development along the borders of many national parks that would forever change the viewsheds and character of their landscapes.
There are 37,050 abandoned mineral-mined land features in 133 national parks. Less than 5% have received long-term remedial action to address human health and safety and environmental problems.
Industrial development and heavy truck traffic from oil and gas extraction and mining would also adversely affect the health and well-being of nearby communities and negatively impact regional tourism. Parks provide nearly $36 billion in economic output each year and support thousands of jobs across the country. The unsightly effects of oil and gas can ultimately hurt local communities that depend on tourism for a living. Healthy national parks rely on well-managed adjacent lands, and robust tourism relies on healthy national parks.
The Lower Energy Costs Act also is riddled with anti-recreation proposals. Permitting oil and gas drilling and mining on public lands disregards public enjoyment of and world-class recreation in national parks — such as hiking, camping, fishing and hunting.
Let’s support renewable energies instead
Public lands have and will continue to play an important role in America’s energy development. We know the transition to clean energy will require mining for certain minerals and materials to build electric vehicle batteries and renewables. However, this demand should not come at the expense of the health and future of our environment, national parks and communities.
There are safe and responsible ways to transition to clean energy that prioritize healthy lands, thriving wildlife, clean water and air, and safe recreation experiences. The Lower Energy Costs Act and its archaic policies are not it. It would set our nation’s environmental progress back decades and put the future and health of our national parks and communities in jeopardy.
Congress must fight back against these outlandish proposals and work together to protect our special places and steer our country toward responsible energy development.
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About the authors
Charlie Olsen Climate Policy Manager
As the Climate Policy Manager for the Government Affairs team, Charlie advocates for a clean energy transition on public lands and waters as well as policies to help protect and preserve parks.
Daniel Hart Director of Clean Energy and Climate Resiliency Policy
As the Director of Clean Energy and Climate Resiliency Policy for the Government Affairs team, Daniel advocates for a clean energy transition on public lands and waters as well as climate policies to help protect and preserve parks.