Warren wants to open public lands to renewables, not fossil fuels

The 2020 candidate laid out steps she would take as president to protect public lands and tackle climate change.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) releases public lands proposal to address climate change if elected president. (Photo credit: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) releases public lands proposal to address climate change if elected president. (Photo credit: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Democratic 2020 presidential hopeful Sen. Elizabeth Warren (MA) released a detailed plan to protect public lands Monday, a proposal that includes boosting renewable energy and a day one executive action banning all new fossil fuel leases. The proposal is in stark contrast to actions taken under the Trump administration, which has opened more land than ever to oil and gas development.

In a Medium post, Warren elaborated on her goal of “[m]aking our public lands part of the climate solution — not the problem.” It is the sixth specific policy proposal released by Warren since joining the presidential race in January.

If elected, Warren said she will work to increase the amount of electricity generated from renewable energy on public lands and offshore areas to 10% of the nation’s overall supply. “That’s nearly ten times what we are currently generating,” she wrote. As of March 2018, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has approved around 11,000 megawatts of wind, solar, and geothermal power.

“It’s a significant proof-of-concept,” Warren wrote. “But to make a real dent in the problem, we’re going to need a whole lot more.”


Expanding renewables would be done in a way that would limit the impact on local ecology, she added, and royalties from the renewable generation would be shared with states and local communities “to help promote economic development and reduce local dependence on fossil fuel revenues.”

At the same time, Warren said she would issue an executive order to place a moratorium on all new fossil fuel leases, including for offshore drilling and on public lands. The pledge builds on Warren’s past support for the 2015 “Keep it in the ground” bill she co-sponsored and is in line with what numerous scientific studies have found; in order to remain below 2 degrees Celsius of warming — the limit codified in the Paris climate agreement — the vast majority of the world’s coal, oil, and natural gas reserves would need to remain untapped.

Warren said she would also reinstate a slew of other regulations that have been reversed by the Trump administration, including methane pollution limits for existing oil and gas projects and clean water rules.

The public lands proposal follows new analysis showing the Trump administration has opened up vast amounts more land to oil and gas development compared to the final term of the Obama administration — and a lot of it is being leased for the lowest bid possible, at just $2 an acre. This shift comes despite little apparent change in industry demand since Trump took office.

In December 2017, Trump also removed protections from nearly 1 million acres of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument and 1.2 million acres of Bears Ears National Monument, both located in Utah. The move amounted to the largest elimination of protected areas in U.S. history.


According to internal Interior Department emails, obtained by The New York Times, oil and gas drilling was a key incentive for opening up these lands.

In her proposal this week, Warren pledged to reverse that action. “As president, I will use my authorities under the Antiquities Act to restore protections to both monuments and any other national monuments targeted by this Administration,” she wrote.

Warren’s plan did not lay out a specific timeframe for achieving her renewable energy target, nor did it outline any broader emissions reduction target.

Warren also did not address how she proposed to pay for free access to all national parks while at the same time addressing the $11 billion deferred maintenance backlog partially addressed by entrance fees.

Her proposal underscored the disparity at hand, however. “We hand over drilling rights to fossil fuel companies for practically no money at all — and then turn around and charge families who make the minimum wage more than a day’s pay to access our parks.”

For the first time, climate change is becoming a top political issue, and one that presidential contenders are feeling pressure to address.


Multiple candidates, including Sens. Kamala Harris (D-CA), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), and Warren, have co-sponsored the Green New Deal, which proposes widespread and rapid decarbonization of the entire U.S. economy in an effort to limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

Meanwhile, Gov. Jay Inslee (WA) has taken the unprecedented step of making climate change the central component of his presidential campaign.

Unlike Warren, most of the 2020 contenders in the crowded Democratic field have not provided details on what specific actions they would take as president to tackle climate change.