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The Drake: The value of public lands gets lost in energy one-upmanship

Written by Tom Bie | 2013 Winter | January 09, 2013 |

Back in the fall, during the second presidential debate, President Obama and Mitt Romney
got into a somewhat spirited exchange on the topic of energy. It began by Romney saying that
“oil production is down 14 percent this year on federal land, and gas production is down nine
percent. Why? Because the President cut in half the number of licenses and permits for
drilling on federal lands and in federal waters.”

I was waiting for Obama to stand up and say, “You damn right I cut ’em in half, Governor!
Because we need a new direction!” But he didn’t. Instead, Obama began to brag about how
much more drilling his administration was allowing. “We’re opening up public lands,” he
boasted. “We’re actually drilling more on public lands than the previous administration!”

Romney then sauntered over toward The President, got in his face a bit, and again accused
him of “cutting permits and licenses on federal lands and federal waters.”
“Not true,” said Obama
Is so, said Romney.
Liar, liar pants on fire, said the Prez.
I sat there watching in awe. Were these two men, in late 2012, actually arguing about who
could drill on public lands faster? Who could do more of it? That’s their energy policy?

What this particular low-point in the presidential debates made clear was not that one party
was superior to the other in caring for our public lands, but that neither had a clue about the
true, non-extraction value of these resources, especially to anglers and hunters and lovers of
the outdoors in general.

Granted, Chicago and Boston aren’t exactly public-lands strongholds where wilderness areas
abound. But with Colorado (26 million acres of public land; ranked 9th nationally at 40
percent) and Nevada (57 million acres, ranked 1st nationally at 80 percent) being two of the
nine swing states, you’d think some Birks-wearin’ backpacker-type staffer might have spoken
up and asked, “Um… have we thought about playing this whole drilling-the-shit-out-of-publiclands issue a little differently?”
Not that east-of-the-Mississippi presidential candidates are the only ones stuck in the ’70s
when it comes to energy policy.

Not that east-of-the-Mississippi presidential candidates are the only ones stuck in the ’70s
when it comes to energy policy. One week after the election, Ken Buck, a Colorado-based
district attorney and 2010 Senatorial candidate, wrote a guest editorial in the Denver Post,
bemoaning the outcome of the election in general and derisively asking, “should we have
environmental regulations that favor one type of energy production?” The answer to Buck’s question is no. We should have regulations that favor all types of energy production that are
cleaner, safer, and less harmful to public lands than current types of energy production. And
here’s your next soundbite, Buck: The jobs will last because the resource will last.

Almost everyone, presidential candidates included, say that they’re in favor of alternative
energy. But there’s always some sort of caveat attached: “I’m in favor of wind energy, but we
need all of that oil, too!” Or “I’m a big believer in solar power, but we have all of this natural
gas so we might as well use it!” Meanwhile, proposals continue to pile up that would allow
drilling for gas in pristine Rocky Mountain headwaters; allow the risky transportation of oil
along hundreds of miles of steelhead rivers and immaculate coastline; and allow dumping of
toxic, mined-out mountaintops into West Virginia waterways.

Nobody expects America to wean itself off of oil overnight. But the clock is ticking and it’s
picking up speed. With another new year upon us, wouldn’t an attempt to reduce drilling on
public lands—rather than increase it—seem a good place to start?

Tom Bie, Editor is the founder, editor, and publisher of The Drake. He started the
magazine in 1998 as an annual newsprint publication based in Jackson Hole,http://www.drakemag.com/back-issues/2013/2013-winter/993-winter-2013-put-in.html
Wyoming. He then moved it to Steamboat, Colorado (1999), Boulder, Colorado
(2001), and San Clemente, California (2004), as he took jobs as managing editor at
Paddler, Senior Editor at Skiing, and Editor-in-Chef at Powder, respectively. Tom and
The Drake are now both based in Fort Collins, Colorado, where The Drake is finally become all grows up
to a quarterly magazine.

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