Viewpoint: BLM must manage public land for more than oil, gas
Mandela Van Eaden
Spanning from the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem to the Upper Missouri River Breaks, Montana’s beautiful public lands contain a wide range of ecosystems and wildlife. For many Montanans, these irreplaceable landscapes fuel our way of life, not to mention our outdoor recreation businesses.
Yet, oil and gas companies have been allowed to take advantage of the outdated federal oil and gas leasing program for years, leaving our communities’ health, well-being, and economies to suffer the consequences.
Thankfully, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) recently proposed reforms to make common-sense improvements to the long-broken oil and gas leasing program. These updated leasing policies will finally provide a better return for taxpayers and ensure that our communities can access all that our public lands have to offer.
As a lifelong Montanan, I am thankful the BLM took action to better balance the needs of recreation, wildlife habitat, and cultural resources with oil and gas development. The agency’s new reforms will reduce conflict and provide more clarity to land managers as they balance the many uses of Montana’s public lands.
For example, these policies could lead to more actionable federal land management in places like Southwest Montana, where rivers, fish populations, and anglers have significantly suffered from adverse conditions in recent years. Removing the threat of oil and gas leasing from these lands, which have little development potential in the first place, would ensure that all parties can better focus on the crisis at hand.
The new rule and its reforms protect our tax dollars and give Montanans a fair return. This issue is particularly important given the recent and unprecedented increases in Montana property taxes. The proposed reforms take long-overdue action to increase bonding rates to a reasonable level, ensuring that oil and gas companies pay to clean up their messes – not taxpayers.
Current rates have failed to ensure that oil and gas companies are held responsible for cleaning up their mess, resulting in thousands of abandoned wells – like those in the Upper Missouri River Breaks – that pollute our public lands, waters, and air. The new requirements would ensure companies, not taxpayers, cover the actual expected clean-up costs for current and future oil and gas activity on public lands. The reforms also update decades-old royalty and rental rates, ensuring Montana taxpayers receive a fair return.
The newly introduced reforms meet Montanans’ needs and allow for better management of the many uses of public land. Recent polling demonstrates the vast majority of Montanans support the BLM’s reforms.
An unprecedented 96% of Montana voters support requiring oil and gas companies – not taxpayers – to pay for clean-up and land restoration costs after development. Over 260,000 people, including many fellow Montanans, made their voices heard in the BLM’s recent comment period for these proposed reforms, and unsurprisingly over 99% of those comments were supportive.
By finalizing these critical reforms as soon as possible, the BLM can enact long-overdue policies that benefit Montana’s public lands and people. It’s time that the BLM manage our lands for all Montana-made natural resources and activities – including wildlife, hunting, angling, outdoor recreation, and more – not just oil and gas.
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Gallery Credit: Stacker