2015 in Review: Public lands

Energy issues drive public lands debates

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Rocky Mountain National Park turned 100 years old in 2015.

Staff Report

The battle over fossil fuel exploitation on public lands heated up in 2015, as environmental advocates launched an aggressive #keepitintheground campaign aimed at convincing the Obama administration to stop issuing leases and permits for oil and gas drilling. But along with the political and environmental battles, there were also some feel-good stories. Right here in Colorado, for example, two beloved tracts of land administered by the National Park Service celebrated centennials. Read more about those birthdays here.

It was a big year for public lands preservation. With Congress gridlocked on many issues, President Obama took the initiative to set aside hundreds of thousands of acres as national monuments under the Antiquities Act, including Browns Canyon, in Colorado. Read more about the creation of Browns Canyon National Monument in these Summit Voice stories, and learn more about President Obama’s use of the Antiquities Act here.

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Roads to fossil fuel drill sites have scarred huge sections of public lands in the West.

In 2015, the Bureau of Land Management also tried to crack down on fracking with a new set of national regulations aimed at addressing well-bore integrity, wastewater disposal and disclosure of chemicals. But the new rules don’t go far enough to fully protect public health and the environment, according to activist groups, who wanted the Bureau of Land Management to adopt more stringent regulations. Read more here.

In the spring, watchdog groups in Utah were able to slow the proposed expansion of uranium mining in Utah by forcing the U.S. Forest Service to conduct more thorough environmental reviews before issuing permits.

“Federal law requires that significant threats to human health and the environment posed by uranium mining be very carefully reviewed,” Western Mining Action Project attorney Roger Flynn said at the time. “The Regional Office correctly determined that these mines cannot be approved without a much more comprehensive review, including the addition of required protective measures to safeguard the public.” Read more in this Summit Voice story.

Fossil fuels and uranium mining aren’t the only threats to public lands. Near the Grand Canyon, the town of Tusayan wants to grow, showing how public lands can increase the value of private residential areas. But the town’s plan could be bad news for the Grand Canyon, according to conservation advocates, who said the proposal by the Stilo Development Group would transform the 580-resident community of Tusaya from a small, quiet tourist town into a sprawling complex of high-end homes, strip malls, and resorts only a mile from the Grand Canyon National Park boundary. Read more in this Summit Voice story.

In Congress, the GOP not only blocked most efforts to protect public lands, but went on the attack by trying to develop legislation that could enable states to privatize vast tracts of federal holdings. Those efforts did not amuse the country’s outdoor industry, which recognizes public lands as a valuable business asset. Read more …

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