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Standing up to oil and gas interests

Active oil operations in Railroad Valley on Monday, Feb. 5, 2018. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)

By Rebekah Stetson

It didn’t get as much attention as it should have, but last week Gov. Steve Sisolak stood up for Nevada by convincing the federal government, for the time being, to drop the idea of leasing for oil and gas in places that could harm wildlife habitat and threaten our clean drinking water. This acreage was up for lease at rock-bottom prices, on land that has almost zero potential to produce oil and gas. I am thankful that our governor used his discernment and stepped in.

All this attention on oil and gas development from the federal government doesn’t make a lick of sense. Oil and gas lease sales have occurred every month since September, with another scheduled for next month. Because the parcels being offered have so little actual oil or gas potential, they often don’t receive any bids at auction allowing oil and gas companies to scoop them up for pennies on the dollar. This underhanded approach is a not only a rip-off for taxpayers, it effectively ties up our public lands from being managed for recreation or wildlife. 

The planned November lease sales included land near Great Basin National Park, the Ruby Lake Wildlife Refuge and the Ruby Mountains. These are some of the most beautiful and cherished areas to me and so many others who visit these areas and support Nevada’s outdoor recreation economy. They are the reason so many of us live, work and play here. Outdoor recreation contributes $12 billion to our economy. It also supports 87,000 jobs ranking in at the third highest sector supporting more jobs than logistics, IT or mining! Locking up land on or near our most valuable recreation areas makes absolutely no sense for Nevada or Nevadans.

The request from the governor, and the outpouring of protest from local leaders and community members allowed the BLM to defer about 100,000 acres that it had planned to lease last week. But the deferrals are only temporary and next month’s lease sales of additional acreage are expected to go on as planned. The December leases involve lands that contain big game migration corridors and areas that are important to the Southern Paiute and Western Shoshone tribes. 

Simply deferring the lease sales is kicking the can down the road. Many of the leases that have been proposed under the Trump administration’s so-called energy dominance agenda impact land that is vital to wildlife, drinking water, outdoor recreation or our cultural heritage. These are places that should never be offered up.

Thank you, Gov. Sisolak, for speaking out against the November sales. I urge you to continue to oppose the wrong-headed rush to sell off our public lands to outside oil interests. Meanwhile, I trust and hope that our Congressional delegation will find more comprehensive protections for our most cherished lands.

Rebekah Stetson is native Nevadan, businesswoman and board member of the Nevada Wildlife Federation.

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