National Press Club

Obama must save the nation's public lands from excessive energy demands, former Interior Secretary Babbitt says

February 6, 2013 | By Robert E. Webb | rewebb@aol.com

Former Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt announces plan to strengthen America’s energy future and conservation legacy at a National Press Club Newsmaker, Feb. 5, 2013.

Former Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt announces plan to strengthen America’s energy future and conservation legacy at a National Press Club Newsmaker, Feb. 5, 2013.

Photo/Image: Noel St. John

Former Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt called for the federal government to give equal attention to protecting America's public lands when it considers the oil and gas industry's requests to develop energy resources.

President Obama should "embrace a simple, powerful, and practical principle that will, once again, place the conservation of America's lands on equal ground with energy development," Babbitt said at a Feb. 5 Newsmaker press conference at the National Press Club.

While Babbitt praised some of Obama's energy and environmental policies on vehicle fuel efficiency standards, renewable energy and carbon emissions, he lashed out at oil and gas industry lobbyists and unnamed members of Congress for failing to support the nation's need to balance the protection of public lands with the need for oil and gas development. Babbitt said 30 bills aimed at protecting public lands await Congressional action.

Many states have landmarks they want to honor and protect, he said.

"What about conservation?" he asked. "Where is the balance?"

He harked back to Theodore Roosevelt as one of history's greatest presidents for ensuring that balance.

"Theodore Roosevelt used the Antiquities Act to save the Grand Canyon. Herbert Hoover used it to save Death Valley ... Franklin Roosevelt to preserve the Grand Tetons," he said.

He said Obama could use it to protect the Grande del Norte, the Oregon Mountain-Desert Peaks in New Mexico and other national treasurers in the state of Washington, California.

"We must recognize that use of public lands to produce oil and gas has real costs," Babbitt said. "Roads carve up and fragment the landscape. Streams are polluted and fisheries endangered. Sportsmen lose the back country places best for hunting. Entire landscapes and ecosystems are despoiled in the manner of the Jonah field in Wyoming. Open space is ever harder to find and enjoy."

Babbitt urged that Obama use his second term to place an additional four million acres of land into permanent protection.

"Going forward he should then, too, commit to place one additional acre into permanent protection for each acre leased out to the oil and gas industry," Babbitt said.

Babbitt, who served as Interior Secretary under President Clinton, is the author of the 2005 book, "Cities in the Wilderness: A New Vision of Land Use in America."

A former governor of Arizona, Babbitt, a founder of the Democratic Leadership Council and chairman of the Democratic Governors Association in 1985, ran for the Democratic Party's Presidential nomination in 1988 with a plan for a national sales tax to fight budget deficits.