The House GOP Looks To Gut Antiquities Act

Undermining purpose and protections of national parks
Environment • Views: 12,181

Just a day after the House voted largely along party lines to gut the Antiquities Act (222-201, with all but 10 Republicans approving and 3 Democrats crossing over to approve), a Texas Republican is looking at gutting the whole purpose of national parks by opening up the parks to oil and gas drilling.

The Antiquities Act is the law that allows the President to designate lands for protection as a national monument or national park. It’s been used by 16 presidents since Teddy Roosevelt established the first national parks more than 100 years ago.

Double Arch at Arches National Park outside Moab, Utah © 2014 lawhawk

The Republican moves are absolutely asinine. These parks are part of our legacy and heritage, and these guys want to drill and spoil the very land that had been previously set aside in perpetuity.

As it is, drilling is going on in close proximity to the parks. On my drive through the area around Moab to Canyonlands Islands in the Sky District and Dead Horse Point State Park, there were signs of drilling everywhere (2003 image courtesy of Getty Images). There were pipelines being laid, and drilling rigs, which have to locate the oil before the pumps can be installed, were being erected at any number of vista points - and this is along the designated scenic byway (I’ll have to locate photos I took of the active drilling operations).

This particular area has been targeted by outdoor industry leaders like North Face, Patagonia, for additional protections, which the Utah Republicans and the Congressional Republican caucus has refused to do. Tourism is a $4 billion business in Utah, and is far more important to the state’s coffers than the oil and gas industry. That’s even as energy companies have been buying up leases throughout the area to go after oil and gas believed to be under the area.

The area already suffers from a long term drought condition, and the drilling operations require quite a bit of water, and fracking can and does affect groundwater, meaning that the drilling could poison the groundwater as well.

But this is part of the larger resentment by people, primarily in the Western States, where the federal government has set aside land for national parks or monuments. That’s even though the feds also give cut rate usage for grazing on federal lands and mineral rights and severance fees/taxes are still all too low.

What gets lost on the drilling and energy company supporters is that tourism is a far bigger economic driver than the energy companies for the local economy. And the tourism industry can have less impact on the environment. While the oil/gas infrastructure development may result in an initial surge of jobs as the infrastructure is built, only a handful of jobs remain to maintain thereafter. It might take 100 guys to build out the pipeline or erect the rigs, but a handful of guys to manage and maintain thereafter.

A tourism magnet like Yellowstone can support thousands of jobs indefinitely - you’ve got outfitters who will give tours, run adventure sports gigs, outfitters, restaurants, hoteliers, etc. Each outfitter can tailor themselves to different kinds of experiences - photography, wildlife, adventure (like kayaking, rafting, biking, climbing, etc.)

The Republicans want to dismantle all these protections and limit the ability of President Obama and future presidents to set aside land for protection. That makes their actions in the GOP led shutdown all the absurd when they claimed that the President forced the closure of the national parks. This action reveals once again that the Republicans have little interest in conservation of natural resources and our heritage and put oil and gas industry wealth ahead of that of the environment.

UPDATE at 3/27/14 11:01:22 am

Here’s a map showing where drilling is already affecting or may impact national park units (including National Parks, National Recreation Areas, and National Monuments).

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