It’s Not Environment vs. Jobs, It’s Sustainable Jobs vs. Unsustainable Ones

by Cole Mellino

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the agency that manages federal land and oversees thousands of oil and gas drilling operations, is considering whether or not to approve a proposed drilling operation of over 125 wells in Desolation Canyon – a remote canyon in northeastern Utah enjoyed by a variety of outdoor enthusiasts.

Proponents of drilling argue that it will create jobs. But at whose expense?

A recent study from the Center for American Progress outlines a compelling case for job creation by protecting public lands. The myriad employment opportunities from forest and water management, restoration and recreation are an important piece of sustainable economic development in the U.S.

Outdoor enthusiasts in Utah agree. There has been a major groundswell of concern in the state in response to the proposed drilling in Desolation Canyon.

“Utah’s outdoor recreation industry adds $4 billion to Utah’s economy, supports 65,000 jobs, and generates about $300 million in annual state sales tax revenue,” according  to Peter Metcalf, founder and CEO of Black Diamond Equipment, an outdoor sporting company.

With the strong support of the Outdoor Industry Association, Metcalf and other representatives from 30 other outdoor brands wrote a letter to the Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar in defense of a proposed wilderness area surrounding Desolation Canyon that would block the drilling project. The proposed wilderness area is part of the Red Rock Wilderness Act, which has been introduced in the House of Representatives every year since 1989 to protect key wilderness areas in Utah. But it has yet to pass in the House of Representatives.

The Environmental Protection Agency is on Metcalf’s side, though. The EPA deemed Gasco’s Environmental Impact Statement “inadequate” and received the lowest score possible because of major concerns about the impact to local air and water quality. Gasco has already been fined $350,000 for violations at its Riverbend Compressor Station on the Uintah and Ouray Reservation in northeastern Utah.

James Martin, director of the region’s EPA office, is particularly concerned about ozone levels in the area, which are already very high in the winter and would only become more elevated if Gasco began extracting natural gas. This increase in ground level ozone has very negative effects on human health. It could also negatively impact recreational activity around the area, thus decreasing the robust economic value that a protected wilderness offers.

The BLM has a responsibility to the American people to uphold its stated mission: to sustain the health, diversity and productivity of the public lands for the use and enjoyment of present and future generations. As we consider the impact of the boom in natural gas drilling, let’s not forget the incredible economic value these spaces offer to the country.

— Cole Mellino, Center for American Progress Intern, with Stephen Lacey

3 Responses to It’s Not Environment vs. Jobs, It’s Sustainable Jobs vs. Unsustainable Ones

  1. Karen S says:

    I’ve seen this argument made before, and in spite of compelling economic evidence, most of the time it doesn’t work because, in part, some politician will speechify on the needs of “hardworking Americans” (e.g., non-recreationists) coming before the needs of (pick a label) Greens, Environmentalists, Hippies, Wackos, Lightweights, etc. Mockery is a powerful tool to dehumanize one’s opposition.

    The other part of the success of oil companies is senior management at BLM (or the former MMS, now coyly renamed) being so close to the industry that success in prying open a formerly off-limits place is a near-religious experience for some of them. I saw this personally in Alaska (including routine suppression of scientific data that didn’t support oil development), and was dismayed at the distance between the values of senior government officials and the public they supposedly served.

    Coalitions opposing oil and gas development in pristine environments tend to get labeled as well-off, narrow interest groups wanting to close off so-called “public” resources (e.g., the oil) from all those hardworking Americans so that they can have it as their leisure-time playground. The strategy works. We all know that big money from Big Oil hiring big expensive PR campaigns can saturate the media to the exclusion of all other voices, because they know that eventually people will come to believe something if it’s repeated often enough (or if opposing viewpoints are prevented from surfacing.) The price of airtime is relatively cheap for Exxon and relatively expensive for groups like Of course industry can outshout everyone else. Five or six mega-corporations own 95% of all media, all of whom are politically conservative. That’s why blogs like this are so valuable.

    Until we hammer home the message that the REAL public resources are not oil, but are the broad-spectrum and vitally important ecosystem services (air, water, food) delivered by intact habitats, such as those outlined in the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment or any number of thoughtful reports and detailed economic tallies of what the environment provides in total for all of us, most people will see the planet piecemeal rather than holistically. Piecemeal means you can break off a chunk of it, and then another and another. Piecemeal is BP’s Tony Hayward saying, “The Gulf of Mexico is a very big ocean. The amount of volume of oil and dispersant we are putting into it is tiny in relation to the total water volume.” Until people see the themselves as part of the environment and not separate or immune from it, they’ll keep believing the most convenient and comfortable lies, no matter how outrageous. Until they see their individual potential for changing things, they won’t act as vigorously and decisively as we all need to.

  2. Geoff Beacon says:

    Here a trader tells the BBC about the coming crash of the world economy.

    The finiacial crash will lead to mass unemployment.

    The climate crash is worse. This is already causing starvation.

    The best policy is to tax carbon and subsidise jobs. It cuts carbon emissions and creates jobs.

    My favourite economist says that’s obvious.

    P.S. Taxing carbon to subsidise jobs not only creates “green jobs”. It makes all jobs greener. Simple but not simplistic.

  3. John Tucker says:

    US Jobs have always sprung from innovation – changes in conditions and changes in perceptions. I can think of no successful period related to initiatives from conservative forces modeling growth strictly on past successes and booms.