Pete Buttigieg Unveils Plan For Protecting America’s Public Lands

Pete Buttigieg on Friday became just the second Democratic presidential candidate to release a specific plan for safeguarding America’s public lands and tapping their potential for combating global climate change. 

The five-page policy vision sets a goal of protecting 30% of all U.S. lands and waters by 2030 — a target that the United Nations set last month to reverse biodiversity loss — and achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions on federal lands by the end of the decade by banning new fossil fuel leases, dramatically boosting renewable energy and prioritizing ecosystem health so lands can absorb and store carbon.

Although the proposal doesn’t mention President Donald Trump by name, it is a clear rebuke of his administration’s approach to federal land management. 

“America’s public lands power local economies, preserve sensitive habitats and cultural heritage, and protect our clean air and water,” the former South Bend, Indiana mayor said in a statement. “From Nevada’s Red Rock Recreation Area to Arizona’s Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument to Cherokee National Forest, they define us as a nation and as a people; yet we are losing the battle to protect these natural and cultural wonders at an alarming rate.” 

In its push for so-called “energy dominance,” the Trump administration has slashed dozens of environmental rules and regulations, offered millions of federal acres for oil and gas for lease and proposed opening nearly all U.S. waters to offshore drilling. He and his team drew fresh outrage this month as the public learned they are blasting and bulldozing sensitive areas of Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, including sacred Native American sites, to make way for Trump’s border wall. The administration has waived numerous environmental laws to streamline wall construction.

In ways, Buttigieg’s plan mirrors that of fellow 2020 presidential contender Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), who was the first to lay out such a vision back in April. Both call for a moratorium on new oil and gas leases; fully funding the popular Land and Water Conservation Fund, which uses offshore fossil-fuel revenue to protect natural areas and water resources; restoring and strengthening protections for sites that have been targets of Trump’s rollbacks, including Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments in Utah; and ensuring that America’s public lands are “part of the climate solution.” 

The release of Buttigieg’s plan comes just one day ahead of the caucus vote in Nevada, a state where the federal government owns roughly 85% of the land.

The issue of protecting public lands came up during the Democratic debate on Wednesday in Las Vegas. Asked about critical minerals that will be required to boost renewable energy, Warren said she’s open to making exceptions to her proposed ban on new drilling and mining on federal lands in order to locate and obtain them, so long as it is done in a sustainable way.

“We cannot continue to let our public lands be used for profits for those who don’t care about our environment and are not making it better,” Warren said.

Roughly a quarter of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions come from fossil fuel extraction on federal lands, according to government data, and there is growing recognition among climate and environmental groups that the federal estate is key to combating the climate crisis.

The Green New Deal, a set of guiding principles for staving off catastrophic climate change and building climate-resilient infrastructure, includes specific language about “ensuring that public lands, waters, and oceans are protected” and “restoring and protecting threatened, endangered, and fragile ecosystems through locally appropriate and science-based projects that enhance biodiversity and support climate resiliency.”

Buttigieg’s plan stresses that federal lands and waters “offer a path forward to fight the climate and nature crises that threaten our economy, national security, and natural systems.”

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