As Americans, and Wyomingites, we are blessed. Within our borders, we have abundant opportunities for recreation on a significant portion of the land in our state; nearly 50 percent is pristine public land. These areas include national parks, monuments, wilderness areas and lands managed by the federal government through the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management.
We are also fortunate because not only do these areas provide us with joy in our private lives, they also create a tremendous catalyst for economic growth. I am a founding member of the Conservation for Economic Growth Coalition, a group of investors and entrepreneurs who understand that public access to these public lands lures entrepreneurs to Wyoming and helps employers here and across the West recruit and retain the talented, driven people we need to grow our companies and our economy. Our employees work hard and they play hard, and the spectacular landscapes of our public lands provide the inspiration they need and value to give American companies a competitive advantage in the global marketplace.
That’s why I am so concerned about the misguided — and seemingly coordinated — effort currently being undertaken by state and federal lawmakers that would dramatically alter our landscape. Earlier this month, while much of the nation was understandably focused upon the tax reform debate, the Natural Resources Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill entitled “The SECURE American Energy Act.” This bill is being labeled by its authors as a measure “to promote domestic energy development on both America’s Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) and its vast onshore federal acreage.” But if enacted, the bill would erode the benefits of our pristine landscapes by creating a framework for transferring oversight and governance of these lands to states that can then decide unilaterally whether to allow oil and gas exploration and development on those lands.
In fact, our own governor has articulated that similar proposals would place a tremendous financial burden on the state, which would in turn actually require oil and gas development on our public lands just to meet those financial obligations. While defenders of the legislation will say the bill merely gives states the right to manage public lands within their borders, this dynamic of states deciding to begin oil and gas development, then bearing the financial burden of management and operations of these lands, which in turn would lead to more development to meet that financial burden, is all more likely to lead to the unraveling of our system of national parks, national monuments and other protected landscapes.
This potential change in the governance of our national public lands not only undermines the recreational opportunities that make our state so special, but it also sends the wrong signal to companies thinking of relocating to Wyoming. Congress considering a bill that would undermine a key driver of the future of our state’s economy in order to score a few points with the oil and gas industry is a significant mistake. I urge members from both parties to speak out against this misguided legislation and preserve our public parks for generations to enjoy.
Mark Wan is a founding member of the Conservation for Economic Growth Coalition in Wyoming and a managing partner at Causeway Media Partners with over a quarter century of successful private equity and venture investment experience.