A controversial comment by a Texas Congressman who wants to open national parks to oil and gas drilling is drawing attention as the U.S. House of Representatives prepares to vote Wednesday on a plan to severely curtail the ability of the U.S. government to establish new national parks and monuments.
“Guys on the West Coast … west of the Mississippi, they know they’ve got oil and gas under the land that they can’t touch because it’s on a national park or some sort of federal land,” said Rep. Pete Olson (R-TX) while attending an oil and gas conference in Fort Worth.
Olson argued that cancelling protections of national parks and other protected public lands lands would help increase energy production and claimed that “the exploration and production industry can operate safely within national parks, while preserving the parks’ scenic and ecological values,” Platts reported.
“Working with the parks system, without destroying the parks’ value, we can do both. We’ve proven that we can do that here in in Texas,” Olson said.
Olson’s comments came on the eve of a vote in the House of Representatives to overturn the Antiquities Act, a 108-year-old law that Republican and Democratic president have used to protect some of America’s most special places, from the Statue of Liberty to the Grand Canyon.
As Climate Progress reported last week, Wednesday’s vote, when coupled with Congress’ ongoing freeze on new national parks and public lands bills, “would represent the endorsement of a de facto ‘No More National Parks’ policy in the U.S. House of Representatives.”
If the bill — H.R. 1459, sponsored by Rep. Rob Bishop (R-UT) — passes the House today, it is not expected to be considered or passed by the U.S. Senate. The President would also be likely to veto the legislation if it were to clear Congress.
Like H.R. 1459, Olson’s proposal to expand oil and gas drilling in national parks is not likely to gain traction in Congress or in the Administration, particularly given Americans’ widespread support for strengthening — not weakening — protections for national parks and public lands. Olson’s comments, however, call attention to the fact that oil and gas development is already occurring in several national parks.
A 2012 review by the Center for American Progress found that 12 national park units had oil and gas operations underway at that time, and that an additional 30 parks could see drilling activities begin on existing mineral rights.
Matt Lee-Ashley is a Senior Fellow with the Public Lands Project at the Center for American Progress. Follow him on Twitter @MLeeAshley.