Washington, D.C. — New public opinion research conducted by Hart Research Associates found a gaping divide between public land-management priorities and rhetoric in Washington, D.C., and the views of Westerners about the appropriate balance between drilling and conservation on public lands. When it comes to public lands, oil and gas drilling is not popular, with only 30 percent support. Instead, Western voters across party lines are most concerned with preserving access to recreation opportunities—with 63 percent support—and permanently protecting wilderness, parks, and open spaces for future generations—with 65 percent support.
The public opinion trends uncovered by the focus groups and polling—which were conducted in April and May in Colorado, Montana, New Mexico, Oregon, Arizona, Idaho, Utah, Wyoming, and Nevada—stand in sharp contrast to recent policy trends in Washington. The previous Congress was the first since World War II to not protect a single new acre of public land as wilderness, national park, monument, or wildlife refuge. Meanwhile, a CAP analysis from earlier this year showed that the Obama administration has leased more than 6.3 million acres of public land to oil and gas companies for drilling—more than 2.5 times as much as it has permanently protected for future generations. Overall, more than 37 million acres of public lands are under lease to oil and gas companies for drilling.
“This is a case where Washington’s policies and rhetoric are still locked in a drilling-first mindset, but Westerners want the protection of public lands to be put on equal ground,” said John Podesta, Chair of the Center for American Progress. “Voters do not see conservation and development of public lands as an either-or choice; instead, they want to see expanded protections for public lands—including new parks, wilderness, and monuments—as part of a responsible and comprehensive energy strategy.”
Today, Podesta and The Wilderness Society’s Melyssa Watson announced the launch of a major new campaign known as “Equal Ground,” which will highlight the need for Congress and the administration to better balance energy development on public lands with the permanent protection of more national parks, wilderness, monuments, and other special places for future generations.
“Across the West, business owners, veterans, sportsmen, and communities want to see more parks, wilderness, monuments, and open spaces because they want to grow their economy and protect the Western way of life for future generations,” said Watson. “They are hoping Washington will listen and put conservation back on equal ground with drilling.”
Over the coming months the new campaign will put forward policy ideas that will help restore balance to public lands management and highlight the progress of Congress and the administration in putting conservation and drilling on equal ground. As part of the effort, the Center for Western Priorities will also be launching an advertising campaign that will call attention to the ongoing imbalance.