By Christy Goldfuss, the Public Lands Project Director at the Center for American Progress Action Fund.
Appearing before the House Committee on Natural Resources Tuesday, Governor Gary Herbert (R-UT) spun a tale of a war on Western jobs. Testifying on the administration’s wild lands policy, he claimed that Secretarial Order 3310 will unleash a wave of lawsuits and destroy existing resource management plans:
We’re being told by oil and gas exploration companies that, due to regulatory uncertainty, they’ll likely be curbing their activities in Utah. They are telling us that they will not invest the time and capital necessary to prepare new bids on new exploration, until the regulatory situation is steadied. The lack of this new investment means not only a loss of jobs for Utah residents but also the loss of natural resources that only increases our nation’s dependence on fuel from foreign, often hostile countries.
The truth is that existing BLM Resource Management Plans are untouched by the administration’s new policy, which only affects future planning endeavors. The oil and gas industry is holding thousands upon thousands of acres of drilling leases without taking action, making the governor’s claims of “loss of natural resources” highly questionable. Furthermore, only 2,530 net new oil, gas, and mining jobs were created in Utah between the years of 1998 and 2008. Even during the Bush administration’s push for greater energy production, the extractive industries did not make up a large portion of the employment in Utah, and were dwarfed by the tourism sector.
As of 2008, less than one percent of the private sector jobs in Utah were from oil, gas, and mining combined. Jobs related to travel and tourism for people coming to enjoy those wild lands make up 13.6 percent of the jobs in Utah.
The wild lands policy in question will not impact current land management, as Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Director Bob Abbey said in the hearing:
I have heard concerns that the new wild lands policy has put a halt to new projects and will prevent important economic activity in local communities. This claim is, simply put, false.
Instead, the wild lands policy issued in December by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar is designed to help the BLM carry out its multiple-use mission, which means managing the millions of acres under BLM’s control, taking into account all uses of the land, including oil, gas, mining, timber, and wilderness. It is the wilderness and the wild lands of Utah that in 2009 brought 19 million people to the state. “Tourism is big business,” Leigh von der Esch, the managing director of the Utah Office of Tourism, testified before the same committee last year. “Parks and federal lands attract visitors that energize local economies, support jobs and economic growth.”
In an interview with the Wonk Room, a small business owner in Utah, Outdoor Utah’s editor Red Oelerich, responded to Gov. Herbert. “I don’t know if all the people making the noise about it understand the economic value of the public lands” and the tourists they attract, Oelerich said. “If there is an overabundance of the extraction industry and if there are coal mines going in, we’re not going to get them, because these are people that want a pretty pristine atmosphere, so it’s going to hurt us economically.”
Approximately 15 percent of the state’s BLM lands may be considered wild lands, which sustain Utah’s thriving tourist industry. By purporting that the wild lands policy could cost Utah billions, Herbert seemed all too willing to ignore the billions of dollars those lands currently generate and the jobs they currently supply in favor of a pollutive industry that just happens to have contributed heavily to his campaign.