By Megan Paliwoda
How the United States handles environmental challenges is highly dependent on the administration currently in office. When it comes to conserving public lands for present and future generations, former President Donald Trump showed little interest in strengthening protections enacted by past administrations.
During his time in office, Trump rolled back 20 drilling and extraction rules that were in place to protect public lands and limit oil and gas development. He also worked to systematically dismantle much of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), hiring a Deputy Director who has called climate change “junk science” and compared its existence to that of unicorns. The Trump administration recently moved the BLM headquarters from Washington D.C. to Grand Junction, Colorado – a move that cost the agency half of its staff. Some speculate that this was an attempt to keep remaining BLM staff away from federal oversight.
President Biden, on the other hand, has developed an ambitious climate plan that works toward a clean energy future and includes a promise to protect our public lands. The plan focuses largely on renewable energy development in the U.S., with the goal of becoming a 100% clean energy economy and producing net zero emissions by 2050.
In Grand Junction, public lands play a vital role in the economy and in the livelihoods of residents. The town has a growing population of younger, liberal-leaning people looking to diversify the local economy by expanding outdoor recreation and wineries in the region. This calls for conserving the public lands.
But there is also a steadfast population of conservative folks who want to protect the historic production of oil and gas in the region. These differing viewpoints in Grand Junction parallel the divide seen between Democrats and Republicans across the country. The struggle to protect public lands has not yet hit a tipping point, considering that there is still a considerable amount of public land available in Mesa County.
The number of oil wells in the region has been declining in recent years, but Trump had a track record of finding public lands to open up for energy development while in office. Near the end of his term, he auctioned off land within Mesa County for development, a move that will likely be reversed by the Biden administration. If Trump had been re-elected, the region would be seeing a very different future for energy development and public lands.
In the next few months, we will see how the Biden administration responds to the plethora of environmental rollbacks enacted during Trump’s time in office. After less than a month as president, Biden has already accomplished several pro-environmental tasks, including re-joining the Paris Climate Agreement, revoking the permit for the Keystone Pipeline, and vowing to consider science when creating policy.
For Grand Junction, this shift in administration likely means a reduction in oil and gas leases on their public lands, and a larger focus on outdoor recreation activities – at least for the time being.