Guest Commentary: Biden’s moratorium will protect Colorado public lands and promote clean air

Colorado’s vast public lands make our state beautiful, allow us the opportunity to enjoy the outdoors, and perhaps most importantly, keep our air clean. And yet, in Colorado alone the Bureau of Land Management has leased 2.5 million acres of land to oil and gas companies through 2019, more than a million of which hasn’t even been developed yet.

Ravaging pristine public lands with oil and gas developments means locking generations of Coloradans into decades of breathing dirty air and relying on the climate-warming fuels of the past.

That’s why I was so excited last month when President Joe Biden decided to pause new oil and gas leasing on federal public lands. Biden reminded us that
sometimes we need to stop and take stock of where we are before we can make real progress. Despite the oil and gas industry’s attempts to misrepresent the action, this
executive order is exactly the type of smart, science-driven policy our state and our public lands need.

Halting oil and gas development provides us with a rare opportunity to review and modernize our energy infrastructure and move towards a system that uses natural
resources to produce power that will sustain our communities and our energy workforce for generations to come.

Rebuilding this broken system won’t be easy, but the good news is that Colorado has been doing the work for years. In 2019, my colleagues and I in the Colorado General Assembly passed a law to make sure oil and gas operations are regulated in a manner that protects public health, safety, welfare and the environment. That same year, we also passed a law to ensure that Colorado’s coal workers and the communities who depend on them don’t get left behind as these economic tides shift the landscape of our workforce.

Since then, Gov. Jared Polis has committed to “work closely with the Biden administration as they begin a program-wide review of energy development policy on public lands to ensure that it works for Colorado.”

I look forward to working with the governor, the administration, and my colleagues at the legislature to ensure that federal actions account for Colorado’s unique needs.
President Biden’s plans going forward must balance our local conservation, recreation, ranching, workforce and energy development needs; while advancing environmental justice.

This collaboration must also foster economic stability and opportunity for Colorado’s rural workers and families. For too long, overproduction and oversupply of fossil fuels,
coupled with the bankruptcies and mergers resulting from poor financial management, have created devastating boom-and-bust cycles in small towns. By reforming the
broken oil and gas leasing system, and building on Colorado’s existing just transition plan for fossil fuel reliant communities, we can build a more solid foundation in every
corner of our state.

Reining in our oil and gas leasing system isn’t just the right thing to do, it’s an economic necessity. The ravaging effects of climate change are already at our doorstep, and it’s taxpayers who are footing the bill. Last year’s catastrophic fire season, which burned through 625,000 acres in our state, cost us more than $200 million in fire-suppression efforts. Nationally, the price of natural disasters has also been on the rise, costing our nation an estimated $95 billion in 2020 alone. Data from the Department of the Interior shows that figure is nine times more than the revenue from mineral leasing in federal lands and waters. The cost of inaction is far too great.

I applaud President Biden for taking the important first step of putting a halt to oil and gas leases. Now it’s time for Congress to harness this moment and help usher in an era of clean energy prosperity. Our public lands, our air quality and the wellbeing of future generations of Coloradans depend on it.

Dominique Jackson is a state Representative from Colorado House District 42 in Aurora.

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