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Idea of the Day: Public Lands Are the Source of More Carbon Pollution than They Can Absorb

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Spanning more than one-fifth of the U.S. landmass, America’s national forests, national parks, and other public lands have long been valued for their ability to absorb and store carbon and other air pollutants. “Forests,” said President Franklin D. Roosevelt, “are the lungs of our land, purifying the air and giving fresh strength to our people.”

Yet rather than fulfilling their natural role of absorbing carbon and balancing the carbon cycle, public lands have become one of the largest sources of U.S. carbon emissions as a result of fossil fuel extraction. In fact, public lands in the continental United States are contributing nearly 4.5 times more carbon to the atmosphere than they are currently able to absorb. The extraction of coal, oil, and natural gas from public lands—and their subsequent combustion in power plants, vehicles, and other energy-consuming activities—is the primary cause of this imbalance.

To address this growing problem, we propose a carbon-emissions reduction plan for public lands that, using a range of tools already available to land managers and the administration, would:

  • Increase public lands’ ability to naturally sequester carbon
  • Decrease carbon pollution from fossil fuels extracted from public lands

For more on this topic, please see:

To speak with our experts on this topic, please contact:

Print: Liz Bartolomeo (poverty, health care)
202.481.8151 or

Print: Tom Caiazza (foreign policy, energy and environment, LGBT issues, gun-violence prevention)
202.481.7141 or

Print: Allison Preiss (economy, education)
202.478.6331 or

Print: Tanya Arditi (immigration, Progress 2050, race issues, demographics, criminal justice, Legal Progress)
202.741.6258 or

Print: Chelsea Kiene (women's issues,, faith)
202.478.5328 or

Print: Benton Strong (Center for American Progress Action Fund)
202.481.8142 or

Spanish-language and ethnic media: Jennifer Molina
202.796.9706 or

TV: Rachel Rosen
202.483.2675 or

Radio: Chelsea Kiene
202.478.5328 or


This is part of a regular column: Idea of the Day

For more from the same column, click here