One section of President Joe Biden’s Executive Order (EO) 14008, “Tackle the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad, Create Jobs, and Restore Scientific Integrity across the Federal Government,” calls on the United States to “achieve the goal of preserving at least 30 percent of our lands and waters by 2030.”
A Department of Interior (DOI) “fact sheet” on Biden’s “30 by 30 Plan” stated “only 12 percent of lands are permanently protected,” adding only 23 percent of the nation’s waters are permanently protected.
‘American the Beautiful’
The federal government currently owns approximately 27 percent of the nation’s land.
Yet the Biden said only 12 percent of the United States is permanently preserved for environmental purposes.
Accordingly, the White House directed several federal agencies with land and environmental policy management responsibilities to produce a plan to implement the administration’s 30 by 30 proposal.
In response, with DOI as the lead author, the agencies produced a 22-page document, titled “America the Beautiful.” Rather than providing a detailed plan, or even an outline, concerning how reach Biden’s 30 by 30 goal, the document limited itself to discussing the importance of biodiversity and the urgency of confronting climate change, through land management.
Western Caucus Letter
Members of Congress from Western states have expressed unease about the 30 by 30 plan.
In a March 16 letter to Biden, 64 members of the Congressional Western Caucus (CWC) expressed their concerns about the initiative.
Their letter pointed out that 90 percent of the 640 million acres the federal government owns is west of the Mississippi.
“Western states will be disproportionately impacted by policies set in place to achieve the 30 by 30 goal, which we fear will impact revenues derived and jobs that depend on multiple-use public lands,” CWC’s letter said. “Our lands and our waters must remain open to activities that support our rural economies and help us achieve our agriculture, timber, recreation, energy, and mineral needs.”
CWC sent its letter to the White House shortly after Biden’s DOI, on February 11, revoked a Trump era rule requiring that state and local governments have direct input into any additional federal land acquisitions or land status changes on federal lands within their borders.
Governors Question Authority
The governors from 15 states, ranging from Alabama and Tennessee in the Southeast to Idaho and Alaska in the Northwest, signed an open letter to the White House expressing their belief the federal government lacks the authority implement Biden’s 30 by 30 plan.
“[We] are not aware of any statutory or constitutional authority for the President, the U.S. Department of Interior, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, or any other federal agency to set aside and permanently preserve 30 percent of all land and water in the United States,” the governors’ letter said. “Nowhere in the laws of our nation is the authority delegated to the President or executive branch agencies to unilaterally change the policies governing land use in America.
“Obtaining the 30 percent goal would require your administration to condemn or otherwise severely limit the current productive uses of such lands, infringing on the private property rights of our citizens and significantly harming our economies,” wrote the governors.
Paths to 30 X 30
Expanding the already substantial federal estate could be accomplished through new land acquisitions funded by the Land and Water Conservation Fund.
Alternatively, restrictions on land use – both public and private – can be brought about through rigorous enforcement of the 1973 Endangered Species Act (ESA), or through expansive agency interpretations of the Federal 1972 Clean Water Act (CW) authority.
For example, on multiple occasions in the past, critical habitat designations for a threatened or endangered species have been so stringent that property owners have been unable to develop their properties.
Adding new protections for the sage grouse throughout the West, expanding the habitat of grizzly bears in Montana, or creating habitat for jaguar in the mountains of Arizona and New Mexico are all possibilities under the ESA.
Arguably, the worst possibility to reach the 30 by 30 goal would be simply to restrict all uses of existing public land, says former Montana state Sen. Jennifer Fielder, CEO of the American Lands Council.
“Perhaps the most egregious of all is the possibility of a total prohibition of all human activity on the 640 million acres of federally controlled public lands,” said Fielder. “This would bring 27 percent of America’s land mass into so-called ‘protected’ status.
“But protected from what?,” asks Fielder. “Hikers, hunters, skiers, and beneficial economic activity perhaps, but certainly not from the greatest threat of all – environmentally destructive wildfires, a danger that would only be exacerbated by a hands off management approach.”
Biden should count private property already being conserved towards his nationwide goal, says Jane Shaw Stroup, who manages the Liberty and Ecology blog for the Goodman Institute.
“The 30 percent figure is unrealistic as well as totally unnecessary,” said Shaw Stroup. “However, since Biden is going to make a push in that direction he should count as preserved the many examples of private conservation throughout the country.
“An inventory of such projects should be taken, as was done by the White House Council on Environmental Quality during the Reagan administration,” Shaw Stroup said.
Bonner R. Cohen, Ph.D., (email@example.com) is a senior fellow at the National Center for Public Policy Research and a senior policy analyst with the Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow.