Guest Column

New BLM Public Lands Rule a Win-Win for Montana 

Montana would just not be Montana without our easily accessible wide-open spaces

By Derf Johnson

Most of us know that Montana’s public lands are a valuable resource. The American public benefits immensely from Montana’s many acres of public lands. Montana would just not be Montana without our easily accessible wide-open spaces. What many people don’t know is that oil, gas, and mining companies have been filling their bank accounts and providing executive bonuses while abusing our public lands, all while refusing to adequately compensate the public. 

For too long, powerful special interests like oil, gas and mining companies have been committing highway robbery on the American public. They mine and drill on public lands that belong to all federal taxpayers, but pay far below what’s just, fair, or reasonable. These companies extract valuable public resources at bargain basement prices, owing largely to the close relationship such corporations enjoy with politicians and a set of outdated land management policies.

Once the public resources are extracted, the profit largely goes to benefit private mining companies and their shareholders. And, as we have seen over and over in Montana, many of these companies often turn tail, declare bankruptcy, and leave a mess for Montana and federal taxpayers to clean up.

Fortunately, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is starting to turn this tide. Its new Public Lands Rule will allow all Americans to have a seat at the table when it comes to decisions about leasing BLM lands. It will give you and me, the American public, the same right to lease the lands for conservation that Big Oil currently enjoys to add to their record profits.  

Unfortunately, lobbyists for extractive industries are spreading misinformation about BLM’s Public Lands Rule.

One of the falsehoods is that the new rule will negatively affect the ranching community. However, the new rule clearly states that it does not affect anyone’s valid existing rights to use public lands – not for ranchers or anyone else. 

In fact, BLM’s proposed rule seeks to curb one of the largest threats to agriculture in Montana: climate change. BLM’s mandate to facilitate a sustained yield for the cattle industry is at risk if grass can’t grow for livestock to eat because of extended drought, unpredictable floods, and devastating wildfires.

BLM’s new rule will help to offset the negative impacts of climate change these powerful corporate actors have disproportionately caused. It raises land health standards for all public land users and can improve the quality of public lands that are under considerable strain from a warming climate.  

Not only do we need to make our land more resilient for climate change, we also need to start managing these lands in a way that shepherds a responsible energy transition. That’s why we’re glad the new rule will continue to allow wind, solar and other renewable energy sources to be developed on public land.  

The misinformation about this issue is completely consistent with the same playbook we’ve seen from the same fossil fuel interests that have profited so much from federal public lands: they have known since the ’80s that burning fossil fuels would have a negative impact on our climate and coordinated a decades-long campaign to convince the public otherwise. 

Don’t be fooled: BLM’s new rule is a win-win for everyone who cares about public land and a livable future for our communities.  

Derf Johnson is the Deputy Director of the Montana Environmental Information Center, a nonprofit advocate for clean air, clean water, and climate action.

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