As New Congress Considers Climate Change, Don’t Forget About Public Lands

An unequivocal report last week disclosed the enormous contribution of the U.S. public lands and waters to warming our planet.

Lost in the news cycle was an agency-issued account by the U.S Geological Survey that disclosed the profound impact fossil energy development on public lands is having on our nation’s carbon footprint.  Coupled with the administration’s National Climate Assessment, both reports must serve as a wake-up call and appeal for action to new and returning members of Congress to act on climate legislation, and quickly.

As a venture capitalist who understands the significant threat climate change possesses to our economy and way of life, we know that businesses must be a significant part of the solution to climate change. But the federal government must lead, too, and the USGS report is an important development toward understanding a significant source of emissions that can be addressed by our nation’s leaders.

As members of Congress continue to think about how to constructively channel the genuine interest in climate change into effective action, I want to urge them to consider a critical, yet often overlooked, component of the problem, and that is the significant greenhouse gas pollution that is generated on America’s federal lands.

While the actions of large corporations are often the focus of the public’s attention, the United States federal government is one of the largest energy asset managers in the world. The Department of the Interior manages more than 2.4 billion acres of subsurface mineral rights, including energy resources like coal, crude oil and natural gas for the American public. Combined, federal lands accounted for 40 percent of all coal, 24 percent of all crude oil, and 16 percent of all natural gas produced in the United States in 2017.  Cumulatively, this amounts to approximately one-fifth of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States.

Despite its prominent role, the federal government has done little to inform its shareholders — the American taxpayers — about the federal energy program and its associated climate impacts. Data is restricted from the public, and there is no systematic effort to track nor disclose the carbon consequences of energy leasing on public lands.  

This makes no sense. Shareholders in some of the most notorious energy companies such as Shell and ExxonMobil are driving significant changes in the carbon footprints of their operations by demanding transparency and accountability from their investments. Some do this because they are personally concerned about the impact on the planet, but more do so because they recognize that climate change threatens their bottom line.

I am part of a new coalition of business leaders called the Business Coalition for Conservation and Climate that is seeking to raise awareness among policymakers and the public about the unique role federal public land management has on this issue and the profound impact that can be made — if the American people demand changes in the way the federal government makes decisions about energy development on these areas.

In light of these facts, Congress can’t possibly take steps to address our warming climate without tackling the energy developed on public lands. I call on the new Congress to hold hearings and consider legislation that bring these issues to the forefront. If Wall Street can do it, so too can our government.


Amy Francetic is a venture capitalist and serves as the managing director of the Energize Fund.

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