Congressional Republicans who think the only purpose of public lands is to provide subsidized commodities to industry generally ignore the many economists who provide hard evidence that protecting natural spaces provides huge economic benefits.
If these lawmakers don’t believe economists, perhaps they’ll believe another group with political sway: small business owners.
A new survey conducted for the Small Business Majority finds that 63 percent of small business owners in Colorado say access to protected public lands and outdoor spaces is a major part of why they set up operations in the state.
The results show that these small business owners strongly support the president’s “all of the above” energy strategy — with more than half saying they would be more likely to support such a plan if it includes steps to conserve some areas and keep them free of development.
By a 4:1 margin, those small business owners say that creating new national parks and monuments would have a positive impact on jobs and the economy.
“Our nation’s most prolific job creators are asking that smart steps are taken to preserve Colorado’s natural assets because they believe it’s good for business,” said John Arensmeyer, founded and CEO of Small Business Majority.
These small businessmen understand intuitively what the experts continue to explain in their anaysis.
Last fall, for example, more than 100 economists wrote to President Obama urging him to expand efforts to protect more national parks, national monuments and wilderness areas. “Protected public lands are significant contributors to economic growth,” they said in their letter.
More recently, Headwaters Economics, a consulting firm based in Montana, found that more than four times as many jobs are created in non-metro counties with protected public lands than in those without. Counties with more than 30% of their lands federally protected increased jobs by 344% over 40 years, compared to just an 80% increase in jobs in non-metro counties with no protected federal lands.
In its 2011 report “The Jobs Case for Conservation,” the Center for American Progress described the broad spectrum of job opportunities and the economic benefits from protecting important forest, mountain, plains, and watershed areas among our inventory of federal lands.
Despite the accumulating evidence (and more is coming soon from the Western Governors’ Association and the Outdoor Industry Association) Republicans on the House Natural Resources Committee don’t seem to understand that outdoor recreation opportunities and protected public lands are huge economic drivers. As senior member Rep. Rob Bishop (R-UT) said during an October 2011 hearing: ”Contrary to claims by the administration and others, the designation of national monuments and wilderness are not a boon to local economies, but rather a detriment in most scenarios.”
Driving these untruthful opinions are the massive campaign support from the oil and gas industry, as Think Progress reported last November. At the time of that report, Republicans on the panel had received almost a half million dollars in contributions from oil and gas interests for the 2012 election — compared to less than $80,000 taken in by committee Democrats.
Don’t think that makes a difference? So far in this Congressional session, the House Natural Resources Committee has voted on more than a dozen bills to expedite oil and gas development while doing almost nothing to expand public lands protections. Tomorrow, they’re at it again, with markups on four drilling bills, and another two drilling bills being marked up in the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
Tom Kenworthy is a Senior Fellow with the Center for American Progress Action Fund. Jessica Goad is Manager of Research and Outreach for the Public Lands Project at the Center for American Progress.