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The issue of how to use federal lands has long pitted business and industry against environmentalists. It has also often set Republicans against Democrats. In December the Obama administration’s Interior Department issued a policy order seen as promoting the protection of wild lands. Last week it reversed that order, partly because the budget deal reached with the Republican Congress in April essentially took away funding to implement it. Oil and gas companies and some recreational groups welcomed the move. Environmental groups expressed alarm. Another segment in our Environmental Outlook series: The battle over America’s public lands.
- Coral Davenport energy and environment correspondent, National Journal.
- Kathleen Sgamma director of government and public affairs, Western Energy Alliance.
- William Meadows president, The Wilderness Society.
- David Hayes deputy secretary, Department of the Interior.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us, I'm Diane Rehm. The Interior Department has abandoned plans to evaluate millions of acres of public land for protection. Energy companies were pleased. Environmental groups said Washington had declared open season on open spaces. In our ongoing "Environmental Outlook" series, we look at the politics and policies of supervising the nation's wilderness areas.
MS. DIANE REHMJoining me in the studio is William Meadows of The Wilderness Society, Coral Davenport of the National Journal and Kathleen Sgamma of the Western Energy Alliance. I look forward to hearing your questions and comments. Join us on 800-433-8850, send us your e-mail to email@example.com, feel free to join us on Facebook or Twitter. Good morning to all of you.
MR. WILLIAM MEADOWSGood morning.
MS. CORAL DAVENPORTGood morning.
MS. KATHLEEN SGAMMAGood morning.
REHMCoral, why the about-face? What happened within the Department of Energy to issue this turnaround?
DAVENPORTEssentially, the thing that sort of drew the straightest line is that in April, Congress passed a budget, a continuing resolution, that took away the funding to do this program. Before that, as soon as Interior Secretary Salazar made this announcement in December, he was met immediately, the administration was met immediately with howls and screams of protest from Western officials.
DAVENPORTThe governor of Utah filed suit against the new Wild Lands Policy. He was joined by the States of Wyoming and Alaska. It immediately became clear that, you know, the political pushback was going to be extremely strong. That was followed up by Congress cutting the funding and a few months later, it just became clear that the administration couldn't go through with this.
REHMExplain briefly what that program established in December would have done?
DAVENPORTIt essentially said, you know, the Interior Department -- it reversed, actually, a policy that had been put in place during the Bush administration. That's in some ways the easiest way to understand it. Many of us remember the notorious Bush Interior Secretary, Gale Norton, who had strong ties to the oil and gas industry. She created a policy which essentially said that the administration would no longer consider wilderness aspects, would no longer designate wilderness lands. It was known sort of as the Bush No Wilderness Policy.
DAVENPORTSo the Interior Department would no longer say these are special places where we can't develop anymore. That had been in place since 2003. As soon as the Obama administration came in, it was expected, environmentalists assumed, that that would be one of the administration's acts, was to reverse that. And that's essentially what Interior Secretary Salazar did.
DAVENPORTIn December, he essentially reversed that and he said, now, you know, the administration is taking control of this and saying we are going to designate and say these are wild lands, these are wilderness lands, these are pristine special places. We're going to evaluate wild, special places that can't be developed.
REHMBut then I gather there was a budget rider. Explain that budget rider.
DAVENPORTSo we all remember the debate over the continuing resolution. We came just to the brink of a government shutdown and so Republicans added -- in order to go along with passing the budget, continuing to fund the government for the rest of the year, the Republicans put a lot of policy riders, many of which stripped away environmental protections. And this was one of them and it essentially blocked the funding for doing this evaluation, doing the evaluation of these wild lands and going forward to determine if there would be places that couldn't be developed.
REHMCoral Davenport, she's the energy and environment correspondent for the National Journal. Kathleen Sgamma, I know that Western Energy Alliance supports the actions that have now been taken. Tell us why.
SGAMMAWell, the settlement agreement that Coral just referred to was not a "No More Wilderness Policy," it was a recognition by the Interior Department that its legal ability to designate what are called wilderness study areas ended in 1993 when Congress -- when the president presented to Congress a proposal for wilderness study areas. Then Interior went about trying to designate additional wilderness areas in violation of the 1976 Federal Land Policy and Management Act and Utah sued again, Utah, because they were kind of at the forefront.
SGAMMAMore than 60 percent of their land is federal and they do realize that the impact of wilderness designation on jobs, economic development in rural communities. So they sued and the settlement merely recognized that the Department of Interior's authority to designate new wilderness study areas ended in 1991.
REHMAnd Bill Meadows, what's your reaction to what Interior has done and to Kathleen's comments?
MEADOWSWell, Diane, I'd like to back up just a bit and put this in context. We're talking today about our nation's public lands, lands that we all hold in common. Six hundred and thirty-five million acres, about a quarter of the land based in the United States, we own as citizens and we entrust the Federal Land Management Agencies, Park Service for our service, Fish and Wildlife Service and the Bureau of Land Management, to take care of those lands.
MEADOWSThe Bureau of Land Management has multiple purposes for its management, including mining, grazing, oil and gas development and conservation. And it has been our view that the Bureau of Land Management has not exercised that conservation responsibility adequately over the years. Coral referenced the settlement agreement that was reached by Secretary Norton and Governor Leavitt of Utah that did, in fact, state that the Bureau of Land Management would no longer be able to designate places as wilderness study areas or manage them for their wilderness values, in a sense, leaving those places open for development.
MEADOWSSecretary Salazar in December of this past year reversed that and set a policy in place that would, in fact, give -- re-establish the authority for the Bureau of Land Management to identify places that were important to protect. There was a firestorm, as both Kathleen and Coral have referenced, and part of that has been legislation that's been introduced in both houses of Congress.
MEADOWSIn the House of Representatives, Kevin McCarthy, and in Senate, John Barrasso from Wyoming, have introduced legislation that we see as the most -- the greatest single assault on wilderness and protected areas since the passage of the Wilderness Act.
REHMHow many acres are we talking about of those 635 million set aside are now at risk?
MEADOWSThe Bureau of Land Management has the responsibility for roughly 250 million, a quarter of a billion acres, for responsibility. The wilderness study areas within that are 12 million acres and the roadless areas that are part of the Barrasso and McCarthy bills are roughly 55 million acres that would be lost.
MEADOWSSo we're dealing with over 60 million acres of land in that legislation. Now, what the Secretary of Interior had done is focus on the Bureau of Land Management lands and be able to take from that 250 million acres to try to identify those places that deserve some kind of interim protection until Congress can act. Only Congress can designate wilderness. The Department of Interior cannot do that. It can only recommend places that should be managed so that they can be left in a fairly wild state until Congress makes that decision.
REHMWhich is why, Kathleen, that members of Congress got so upset when Secretary Salazar reversed that earlier 1993 decision.
SGAMMAWell, actually, Bureau of Land Management lands are supposed to be managed for what we call multiple use. That's their mandate. Some of their lands, about 22 percent of BLM lands, are managed for conservation. And that's fine, that's goes through a public land use planning process, those are designations like the wilderness study areas, et cetera, but the majority of BLM lands are intended to be used for multiple use, so for the productive use, so that we can create jobs, economic activity, American energy, growth in rural communities.
SGAMMAWe have about 109 million acres overall in the United States that are designated as wilderness and another 40 million protected in national parks. BLM lands are intended to be multiple use, productive uses to create wealth for our country and energy and economic activity.
REHMSo from your perspective, what you're saying is that small communities might actually be hurt by designating these lands as pure wilderness?
SGAMMAAbsolutely. And that's why there was such an outcry across the West, as Coral mentioned, when this policy was announced in December because county commissioners on up to governors realize that it would seriously impact the ability to create jobs and economic activity in local communities. There are counties out in the West, and I'm from Denver, where about 85 percent, even 90 percent of those counties are federal lands. So when they make decisions that hold up any kind of development, it really impacts those counties.
REHMKathleen Sgamma, she's with Western Energy Alliance. Coral Davenport is with National Journal. Bill Meadows is president of The Wilderness Society.
REHMAnd joining us now from Washington, David Hayes, he's deputy secretary of the Interior. Good morning to you, sir.
MR. DAVID HAYESGood morning, Diane. It's great to be with you.
REHMThank you. I know a lot of people are disappointed by Interior's actions. How do you respond?
HAYESWell, Diane, we had to comply with Congress' rider that was passed, as was pointed out earlier in the show, as part of the continuing resolution. We were disappointed that we cannot go forward with designating wild lands under this rider. We are committed to continuing to have a balanced approach to managing our public lands.
REHMWhat does that mean?
HAYESWell, what it means is, as Bill Meadows laid out, the Bureau of Land Management, which is the largest land owner in the United States, with about 250 million acres, is under the law required to manage for multiple uses, which means that basically, the land managers are supposed to make decisions about whether and where to develop those lands. And one of those missions is conservation. In fact, a large number of acres have been put aside in something called the Landscape Conservation System, which is a part of BLM that Congress has confirmed should be set aside.
HAYESSo we're trying to make good decisions and provide guidance so that everyone knows how land should be managed. And that's – those decisions are made through a public process and that's what we were planning to do with the Wild Lands Policy.
REHMBut at the same time, there are an awful lot of people who are worried that those pristine acres, those millions of acres of pristine land out West are going to be at risk.
HAYESWell, that's right. I mean, and that's what the Wild Lands Policy was intended to help address. Right now – well, since the Bush administration made their settlement in the early 2000 --I think it was 2003, basically, the BLM land managers and the public have had no guidance on what lands should be conserved of the BLM lands, what lands should be available for the many important uses from grazing to oil and gas to renewable energy and our order that Congress has stopped was intended to help rationalize and clarify what areas should be protected and -- for the benefit of hunters, anglers, recreationists and for future generations. Once you open up those wild lands to other development, they're gone forever.
REHMSo what is Interior's plan moving forward?
HAYESWell, Diane, we've -- the secretary sent out a memo last week that lays out our plan. Number one, of course, we will -- we have to and we will comply with Congress's requirement. We will not designate lands and call them wild lands. Number two, we are going to implement the law, which does require us and authorize us to identify and inventory the lands that have wilderness characteristics.
HAYESAnd we've made it clear that in making decisions going forward about whether and or how to develop those lands, we're going to take into account those wilderness characteristics. And then number three, we want to engage the Congress in a very proactive way to provide permanent protection for the areas that make the most sense in terms of setting them aside for wilderness for future generations.
REHMI want to read to you a message posted on Facebook by Margaret who says, "Industry wants to use the resources, environmentalists think the time should be spent enjoying them. It wouldn't be a problem, but industry doesn't want to do it in a way that does not destroy the whole thing. West Virginia Mountains are gone for good. They were beautiful." How do you respond to that, David?
HAYESWell, I think there are the right places, Diane, to do various activities on our public lands and there is an important role for renewable energy projects that we're putting a lot of attention on, new solar projects in the West, for example. Also domestic oil and gas generation is important, but there's no question that keeping special lands available for future generations untraveled is also important.
HAYESOn the oil and gas side, we have already leased more than 40 million acres of BLM land holdings for oil and gas development. More than half of those acres are idle, so there's -- we're providing plenty of opportunity for those uses. There should be room for providing opportunities for recreational use, for hunters and anglers and for future generations as well. That's what the Wild Lands Policy was focusing on.
REHMI want to thank you so much for joining us. David Hayes, he's deputy secretary of the Interior. I hope you'll join us again.
HAYESThank you, Diane.
REHMThank you so much. Coral, what do you make of the Interior Department's reversal on this issue? Was it purely political?
DAVENPORTWell, to some extent, they were doing what they had to do. They didn't have the money to carry out the program. It does fit into a broader political pattern that we're seeing on the part of the administration when it comes to environmental protection. We've seen several White House officials have been pretty open about saying that -- especially with this new Congress where it's clear that, you know, there's not going -- the White House is not going to be able to enact a lot of the environmental legislation that it would like to do. It's not going to be able to enact a climate change bill, it's probably going to be very difficult to enact legislation that would preserve large swaths of land.
DAVENPORTSo the administration is saying, we are going to act using the Executive Branch on environmental protection wherever and however we can. They've done that, the Environmental Protection Agency has taken steps to regulate greenhouse gases and the Interior Department at the same time took this strong step to say, we're going to, you know, push forward and use our executive authority to do this.
DAVENPORTIn both cases, we've seen huge pushback and we've seen Republican's attack those moves and say, the administration is, you know, in the case of the Interior move, the wild lands, you know, putting energy resources out of bounds. In the case of the EPA, they're saying, well, this could potentially raise gas prices, raise energy prices. That's a potent political argument.
REHMBill, was there a small group of Republicans pushing against the administration?
MEADOWSYou know, what we have seen is a radical vocal minority that have captured the debate. And they've pushed and pushed and I think the response last week from the Department of Interior was to calm that down a bit. It was political in the sense that it was to release the anger and it was creating other problems for the Department of Interior and so they went, I think, probably as far as they thought they could go. We don't agree that they went far enough.
MEADOWSI think the one thing that was missing in the directive that the secretary sent to the -- to Bob Abbey who's director of the Bureau of Land Management, was the lack of any indication that these lands would have any kind of protection. It's clear that they have the authority to identify or inventory lands that have -- that are wild, but to protect them is lacking in this initiative.
MEADOWSI think that what we need to go back to is the recognition that what we're looking for is balance. The Bureau of Land Management is a multipurpose organization. Just as David said, it has responsibility for managing for economic values, for social and cultural values, oil and gas, mining, but it also is responsibility for conservation.
REHMYeah, and that's a tough balance for a single agency to be involved in. In other words, they're making profit for the federal government. At the same time, supposedly keeping certain lands pristine.
MEADOWSBut David mentioned 41 million acres that have been opened for leasing for the oil and gas industry and only 8.5 million acres are protected as wilderness. And we're looking at a policy that would prohibit the Bureau of Land Management from identifying what we believe are roughly another 15 to 20 million acres that are worthy of consideration at some future date for wilderness protection.
REHMKathleen, where's the balance there?
SGAMMAWell, there is a balance on public lands and it's not a radical minority. It's certainly a majority in the West who understands that we can have both. We can manage our lands for public multiple uses, such as ranching and oil and gas and we can also have conservation, we can also have protection of those lands. I think it's more interesting to note that BLM manages about 22 percent of their lands in some type of conservation capacity, whether as direct wilderness, wilderness study areas, areas of critical environmental concern, wild and scenic rivers.
SGAMMALots of designations and lots of protection that the BLM puts on those lands to indeed balance the impact with conservation. And in fact, although we do have 38 million acres -- David Hayes was wrong in that figure -- that are leased right now for oil and gas, 0.07 percent of those acres are actually disturbed, so we are producing 27 percent of natural gas and 14 percent of America's oil production in the West while disturbing less than a 10th of an acre of public lands. I think that's a pretty darn good balance.
MEADOWSOn the last point, if one just walked through or flew over an oil and gas development, one would debate that statistic. Oil and gas development is an expansive invasive process with pipelines and roads. There's just -- there's no way to do development without having huge impact on wildlife habitat, on water quality. What we're striving for is balance.
MEADOWSI want to agree with Kathleen, though, on the -- a major point here. There is a way to do this and we have found that in working in local communities, that there's a real eagerness to find solutions. And I think The Wilderness Society, for example, believes in this -- we understand this balance between human communities and natural communities and they need to thrive together. If we don't have healthy natural communities, human communities are not going to be successful.
MEADOWSAnd so when I walk -- work in rural communities in the West, looking at wilderness legislation, for example, I am really impressed when a county commissioner or a rancher takes me out to some vista, a place that he has been going to or she has been going to for years that they're proud of and they want to protect it.
MEADOWSAnd so there's a way, I think, for us to work with local communities, be able to find a way to make certain that oil and gas development occurs in places where it's appropriate, but not every acre. And so there are wilderness characteristics, there are conservation values, there's water quality needs, there's wildlife habitat that we need to be able to protect and local communities join us in that kind of support.
REHMWilliam Meadows, he's president of The Wilderness Society and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Coral, are all of the lands we're talking about here, are they primarily out West?
DAVENPORTNearly all of them. The Conservation System that applies under this is 11 or 12 -- it's the 12 western states and Alaska, so this is very much a regional western issue, so, yes. It's...
REHMAnd it was the western Republicans who primarily criticized this. I'm wondering, too, about the Marcellus Shale and that area of gas development that's going on from New York State down into Virginia, Bill.
MEADOWSWell, there's a great concern about what's called hydraulic fracking. It's -- I think there are three issues that need to be resolved before there is an aggressive effort to fully develop the Marcellus Shale. One is we're concerned that the industry has asked for protections from Safe Drinking Water Act, for example. There's also protections from...
REHMI understand that. You've asked for protections from the Safe Drinking Water Act?
SGAMMAWell, that's not entirely true. Actually, when the Safe Drinking Water Act was passed in 1974, hydraulic fracturing specifically was not included as in the underground injection permit portion of it.
SGAMMABecause it's not -- because that deals with disposing of waste underground and that's not what fracking is about. However, with surface water, we certainly do comply with the Safe Drinking Water Act and hydraulic fracturing is regulated very strongly at the state level.
REHMHadn't there been some questions on the part of the EPA about fracking because the underground water supplies may have been affected, Coral?
DAVENPORTThere absolutely have been questions and there have been a number of studies over the years that have suggested that the hydrofracking technique, which does inject -- involved injecting a lot of chemicals, a lot of salt, a lot of gravel, you know, down into the ground, could potentially contaminate some groundwater areas. And so what's going on now is the EPA is doing a comprehensive study to determine what the environmental risks might be of hydrofracking for natural gas.
DAVENPORTAnd you asked about the politics of this. Depending on what the EPA determines, there's very likely to be another push back in political outcry and it's very interesting to see that it will not deliver its results until after the 2012 elections.
REHMThat's very interesting. What's your reaction to that, Bill?
MEADOWSWell, you know, I think our concern here, one, we've talked about underground water contamination, we've talked about surface water contamination and there's also air quality issues that are important. The industry has refused to release their -- the chemicals that are used in the process, so there are lots of concerns.
MEADOWSAnd the politics become pretty interesting because there's a lot of money at stake. There are landowners who are offered money to allow companies to come on and initiate a process. Their neighbors downstream are saying, wait a minute. And so you have debates in local communities. And I think until there's clarity on the process itself and some best practices and some stronger regulations, Kathleen's right. The states regulate this, but, you know, there's a lot of inconsistency among the states.
REHMAnd haven't some states pushed back against the EPA, saying, we're going to go ahead, we're going to allow this fracking to go ahead?
SGAMMAYes. The states have pushed back very strongly against the EPA coming in and taking what they've been regulating successfully for over 60 years and 1 million wells plus fracked in the United States. And even Lisa Jackson just testified before the Senate a couple weeks ago and again confirmed that there has not been a case of contamination from fracking.
REHMKathleen Sgamma, she's director of government and public affairs for the Western Energy Alliance. When we come back, we'll open the phones.
REHMAnd it's time to open the phones, 800-433-8850. First to Melbourne Beach, Fla. Good morning, Jill, you're on the air.
JILLHi. I originally called about the desecration of our national wild lands, but when I was listening to one of your guests supporting fracking, I just was -- it took my breath away. When you say that fracking is not -- has not hurt anybody, that's absolutely ridiculous. It's poisoned wells, it releases benzene, toluene, ethyl benzene and other radioactive elements. Heavy metals, including lead and arsenic and then, and this is going to be in our ground water.
JILLI think it's -- I'm sorry that there's nobody on your show who can really address these issues. Maybe there is, but I...
MEADOWSWell, I think you've raised exactly the right question and I think the concern is that there haven't been the kinds of studies, there's not been the kind of regulation, there hasn't been a way in which our federal government has been able to evaluate all the risk and that's what the Environmental Protection Agency is trying to do now. There are many, many concerns. The state of New York, for example, has in fact put a pause on any kind of hydraulic fracking until there is more knowledge gained.
MEADOWSThere are, I'm certain, examples of where this has been done well, but there are plenty of examples where there are questions and there's been impact.
SGAMMAI think there's been a huge -- there's been a lot of mischaracterizations of fracking in this show so far and from your last caller.
REHMHow in this show?
SGAMMAThe description of it by Coral, the impact on underground drinking water. Lisa Jackson, don't take it from me, just take it from Lisa Jackson, who just two weeks ago testified before the Senate saying, there's been no contamination. So, you know, there's just been a lot of mischaracterization on fracking. I thought we were going to discuss wilderness, but I mean, I'm happy to engage on fracking. But the description of it, the...
REHMTell me how Coral's description of it is incorrect.
SGAMMAMost of what is used in fracking is sand and water. There's very diluted chemicals, most of which are found in food additives and chlorine for, you know, that you put in your pool, things in your cleaners. The caller just mischaracterized putting down benzene. You know, what we release are hydrocarbons, so those indeed are released up the well through a well that is specifically designed not to contaminate drinking water and, in fact, I again repeat, the states and Lisa Jackson have even said, no cases of contamination.
DAVENPORTI would say that my characterization was pretty accurate. I mean, the injection involves water, sand, gravel and some chemicals and part of the debate about hydrofracking, of course, is there's legislation right now that would require companies to disclose exactly what chemicals are in the -- are involved in the hydrofracking process and there has been great pushback from the companies about disclosing exactly what they're using. So we're not always sure exactly what chemicals and what mixes are going in there, but it is primarily, you know, water, gravel, sand and some chemicals.
REHMAll right. To Sycamore, Ill. and to Hamish (sp?). You're on the air.
HAMISHGood morning. I'm going to get back to the environmental part of it and the -- I feel that big business cannot be trusted to go into our lands and take our whatever oil, gas, coal, whatever, and not damage the environment. The bottom line is how much money they can get out of each one and that doesn't include returning the land to an original state.
HAMISHI think that, like I say, all you have to do is look at Pennsylvania, look at the Virginias, Kentucky. Even here in Illinois, we had strip mining and it was a local law that forced the strip mines to go back and level out. Otherwise, everything was just left in spoil banks.
MEADOWSWell, it's exactly what we're asking the Bureau of Land Management to do, is to identify the places that are really too valuable for conservation, too wild to drill or mine and that's the kind of balance we need on our public land, is -- we concur that there are places for oil and gas development, renewable energy, wind, solar are clearly appropriate uses for our public land, but there are other places where we can achieve the balance for conservation in this 41 million acres that's leased with the BLM and only 8 million -- 8 and a half million protected as wilderness.
MEADOWSAnd by the way, it's not 22 percent that's protected in conservation, it's 10 percent. Twenty-six million acres are part of the national conservation lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management, so it's a very small proportion and it is really out of balance, the development versus the conservation.
SGAMMAAnd area about the size of Massachusetts, Road Island, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland and the District of Columbia all combined are what's protected under various conservation designations by the BLM. I think we continue to be presented with a false choice, here, as if we cannot develop the energy resources that we, as Americans, all own and that power our economy and with environmental protection.
SGAMMAWe can have both. We've been doing it. We have a very small actual imprint on the land, we mitigate air and water quality impacts and, in fact, even lands that have active development and prior oil and gas development have been proposed for wilderness areas, so we do return the land to such a pristine character that environmental groups, like The Wilderness Society, are proposing them for wilderness protection.
MEADOWSThat's rare. Our experience is, once a place is degraded, it's very hard to restore, particularly from oil and gas development. You know, it's -- we go to, let's say, Pinedale, Wyo., which is a huge gas field and the -- there is so much support out of Pinedale for the protection of the Wyoming Range, which is next door. They're seeing the extraordinary, invasive degradation of the just massive oil -- gas development here and they want to protect the places where they are hunting and fishing and hiking, places where they go to -- where people in the community go to recreate.
MEADOWSAndo there's support within the community that is having economic return from gas development, building support for conservation in wilderness protection in the Wyoming Range. It's a remarkable story of where you actually can have both in the sense that you don't want to have energy development on every acre, just as Kathleen would not propose wilderness protection on every acre.
REHMAll right to Clewiston, Fla. Good morning, Rhonda.
RHONDAGood morning. I have a question about shared adversity with regard to public land. I live in the Northern Everglades in a rural county. I'm an environmentalist and we have tremendous opposition to any kind of conservation in our areas. I believe that there are valuable habitats in the areas or perhaps there were valuable habitats in the areas that are currently already developed, the coastal counties, for example.
RHONDAThe central rural counties are the ones who are left harboring all of the nature, the endangered species and the water resources and they're charged with maintaining that protection. And I believe that there really needs to be a shared adversity, here, where we can either charge the overdeveloped counties for preservation in the rural counties and this -- there's and analogy to the state level policy as well so that I have an interest in Utah, I have an interest in Pinedale, Wyo.
RHONDAI want to see the desert flora and (word?) preserved as well, but we've got completely overcrowded areas that are fully developed and economically developed and the rural counties I do feel badly for because they are not able to economically develop because their holding the last of the natural resources and I wish that there was some policy from interior where those shared resources were also able to benefit the local communities economically and...
MEADOWSOne interesting initiative in Florida, where the caller is speaking from, is a Real Estate Transfer Tax that existed so that a percentage of any real estate sale was devoted to conservation. And as a result, Florida had one of the most robust land conservation acquisition programs of any state in the United States and that initiative was zeroed out in the budget, I think, in 2008. There is an initiative being discussed for the ballot in Florida for 2012 that would re-establish that, but that's the kind of shared responsibility that we can have, where the development actually begins to pay for some of the protection of habitat and water.
SGAMMAAnd I think we've got an opportunity also in the West, which I think Bill and I can agree on, that a bottom up county effort -- county efforts to identify areas that should be protected as wilderness or other designations can be done. It happened recently with Washington County, Utah, where it was a ground up. The county commissioner's local stakeholders came together with The Wilderness Society and others and designated about 130 million acres, I believe, for wilderness designation there near Zion National Park.
SGAMMASan Juan County and Emory County in Utah are also trying to do the same thing. So a bottom up approach is much preferable, then we don't these characteristics not fully designated. We get buy-in from the local communities and we don't have that top down, huge bill type approach which we see from Congress.
REHMAll right. To South Lake, Texas. Good morning, Leslie.
LESLIEGood morning, Diane. I just wanted to recite some of what has happened in our area. First of all, in our little town, there's been quite a lot of division. People were sold a bill of goods and told that nothing would happen to the environment were they to go ahead and sign, so a number of people did. In a time next door (unintelligible)...
REHMSign for -- excuse me, Leslie. Sign for what?
LESLIEOh, sign (word?) to permit fracking to occur on their property. That's what people signed on for. And when the land men came by, they said there'd be no problems. One of the things that has happened here in our area is that people in the town of Argyle went ahead -- which is about 10 miles away, went ahead and said yes, more of them did, and the drilling's already begun there. We're fighting drilling here.
LESLIENow, what they did was they put in some wells near some schools and shortly after the drilling began in Argyle, Texas, at the school, children began getting sick. Headaches, nausea, all sorts of health complaints. You know, when the gas industry is trying to tell us that there are no problems, there's a lot of anecdotal information that they wanted to ignore. And there's plenty of it even here in Texas.
LESLIEAnother thing, there's a recent study that was published by Duke University that came out on May 12 this year that contradicts the concept that there's no groundwater contamination. By (unintelligible) it's not being talked about today.
REHMAll right. Thanks for calling. Kathleen.
SGAMMAWell, anecdotal evidence is one thing and the body of scientific evidence and what the state regulators have, their evidence is much more preponderant that a few anecdotes.
REHMDo we have a body of scientific evidence, Coral?
DAVENPORTThere really isn't one comprehensive authoritative study on the results of hydrofracking yet and that's what this EPA study is supposed to be. The EPA is, you know, in the process of doing a full comprehensive thorough study that would be the source for this, but we will probably not see that until the end of next year.
SGAMMAThere's 60 years of a body of evidence that state regulators have gathered in actually regulating fracking for those 60 years.
MEADOWSYou know, I am kind of encouraged by the conversation because what I see from the callers or hear from the callers is a great interest in what's happening in their neighborhood. People care about their water, people care about their land and that's what I find. Kathleen's (word?) we're able to work in Utah, which is remarkable that, you know, I can go out with a county commissioner and actually, she might take me to the place that she wants to protect and we can sit down and talk about what's important.
MEADOWSBut it's also true that unless we have strong oversight on -- whether it is on hydrological fracking or on wild land protection or on managing energy, we're going to lose those lands and lose that water that's so important to the survival of our people.
REHMWhy do you think it's so important to have acreage declared as wilderness?
MEADOWSYou know, it's not the acreage itself, it's the place. And it just -- what it represents is for water quality, for protection. Sixty percent of our country gets its drinking water off of public land and another probably 40 -- 30 percent get their drinking water off some kind of private forest land or some kind of protected area. So, you know, just the water issue itself is worthy of consideration for some kind of conservation protection.
REHMAnd Kathleen, from your perspective, do you feel too much land is being protected that could eventually hurt the country economically?
SGAMMANo, but when you -- when the Obama administration's policy of looking at all 245 million acres of BLM -- well, 220 million acres that are not currently protected, looking at that, all of that, as if that should all be protected is not really a balanced use of federal lands. We have wilderness areas, we have national parks, we have lots of areas that are conserved. But we also have lots of lands that we use for building the wealth of the country, powering our economy, creating jobs and it's important to have that balance.
MEADOWSYou know, it...
REHMDo you think we're going to reach any kind of balance, Coral?
DAVENPORTI -- you know, I'll get back to the strategy that I talked about before. In some cases, I think the administration is kind of taking, with some of these policies going as far forward as it possibly can and then allowing itself to get smacked back a little bit, but still sort of having a -- it's doing that with the EPA greenhouse gases and it -- I think we may see that going forward with the wilderness designation.
REHMAll right. Coral Davenport, Kathleen Sgamma and William Meadows, thank you all so much. Thanks for listening, I'm Diane Rehm.
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