For over one hundred years, National Parks have been seen as a sort of sacred place—lands that inspire and provide a necessary refuge from the clamor of the outside world. Now it seems that the very essence of National Parks—a public land accessible and protected for future generations—is in jeopardy, thanks to a Republican Congress eager for political gain.
A number of Republican Congressmen have proposed a piece of legislation— Resolution 46 —that would open up upwards of 40 new national park sites to privatized oil and natural gas drilling. This fits into a broader aim of Republican legislators: massive deregulation of environmental protections, and a shifting away of power from local taxpayers to multinational corporations.
Oil and natural gas drilling have been a constant in dozens of publicly owned and national parklands, such as in the Everglades. A law passed in 1978 created the first safety measures to regulate private drilling on federal lands—aiming to curtail the potential of environmental degradation in these spaces. This 1978 law was both outdated and ineffective by the turn of the twenty-first century; policymakers in Washington agreed that its lax limits on drilling and environmental cleanup put thousands of people close to National Parks at risk.
This is possible thanks to the ‘Split Estate’, a situation in which the Federal Government owns the surface area of land while private corporations maintain control of the soil below it. There are currently 534 active oil and natural gas well across 12 sites in the National Parks, a frighteningly large number that, with this new Republican legislation, are on the cusp of having many of their safety measures reduced or outright disregarded.
After seven years, President Obama made a concrete step in reforming the 1978 drilling law. In December of 2016, he issued the 9B Orders, which necessarily updated the 1978 drilling law for modern circumstances, ensuring wider safety measures and other environmental protections. 9B charged companies extra fees and fines in case of natural disasters caused by such wells, and effectively shifted the burden of cleanup efforts back from taxpayers to culpable corporations. A fair bargain, right?
However, the Republican Congress is aiming to dismantle those safety mechanisms. The leader of this charge is Arizona Congressman Paul Gosar, who unsurprisingly is one of the biggest sugar daddies of the Natural Resources and Energy industries. Over four congressional campaigns, his cash haul from these lobbyists has reached over $250,000.
Though Resolution 46 doesn’t have a set vote date yet, it will almost certainly be seriously considered by the Republican majority. This act fits squarely into the broader GOP goal of massive deregulation of public lands and environmental treasures, such as we’ve already seen with the GOP’s opening up of water-streams to coal runoff and pollution. We should not be surprised, then, if Resolution 46 gets a vote in Congress, and if passed, will get a stamp of approval from President Trump. And when it does, the fate of dozens of National Parks across the country will rest in the balance— including, among others, the Flight 93 Memorial in Pennsylvania.
Natural spaces, accessible and protected for future generations, are some of the last places where the public can experience nature at its finest, especially as Climate Change increases in scope. And, ultimately, they represent the purest Democratic ideals of American society; the notion that land should be made public and accessible, not sold off to the highest bidder.
This is what makes the National Parks system great and worthy of protection. In a society consumed by line charts of profits margins and stock-market graphs, natural spaces provide a healthy dose of reality. They remind us of humanity’s humble origins—bringing us back to ‘the real world’, the world that created us. We have an obligation not only to the planet but also to ourselves to protect these lands for future generations.
For those who believe in the value of public lands—and in the benefits of national parks to a community’s wellbeing—there is still hope for us in this fight. National Parks are one of the few federal programs that reach wide support; favorability numbers continuously reach in the high 70 to 80 percent ranges, with support crossing all partisan and ideological lines. Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle will respond to public outcry on this issue; already, they made the Republican house pull a measure that would’ve sold off nearly 3.3 million acres of National Park lands to private corporations. This is not just a battle to be fought by a small group of environmentalists; this is an issue that affects everyone from urban liberals to conservative outdoorsmen who recreationally fish and hunt. We all have a stake in this.
I strongly urge everything with the slightest interest in conservation and nature to oppose Resolution 46. Over the coming weeks, I will be calling representatives and urging them to lend their voices for the lives of park rangers and outdoorsmen, not the singular interests or private corporations. I hope you will join me in opposing this Resolution and in fighting for the future of our National Parks.