“The Bureau of Land Management‘s mission is to sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of America’s public lands for the use and enjoyment of present and future generations,” the agency’s website proudly proclaims. What does that say to you? What kinds of images does that statement conjure?
Is it something like this?
No, a wall of coal isn’t what we imagine when we read that mission, either. And it hardly reflects the duties and responsibilities of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the agency responsible for administering more than 247.3 million acres of U.S. public lands – a full eighth of the total landmass that we now know as the United States. In total, this agency manages “221 wilderness areas, 23 national monuments and some 636 other protected areas as part of the National Landscape Conservation System totally about 30 million acres.”
Sadly, the current administration doesn’t agree. Because this administration believes that it is better for both present and future generations if we instead capitalize on these untapped resources and invest full-force in fossil fuels, such as coal. They tout greater energy independence and better job security for the nation’s coal miners. But we all know who really stands to gain from this outlook, and it isn’t the general public.
Coal is among the dirtiest energy sources available, and it is accountable for one-third of carbon emissions in the United States. The mere mining of this material is responsible for 10 percent of all methane emissions, 1,790 tons of VOCs a year, and more nitrogen dioxide than can be produced by 1.12 million cars, according to a study conducted by Earth Justice. The subsequent act of burning it as fuel causes, of course, even more harm. But even if we turn a blind eye to its effects on climate change and global warming for a moment (because those phrases are supposedly dirtier than fossil fuels, according to this administration), the detrimental impacts this commodity has on human and environmental health simply cannot be ignored.
Because coal mining doesn’t just pollute the air. It also contaminates our natural water sources, turning them toxic and orange, like tanning-bed-baked skin. Studies have associated it with increased rates of chronic respiratory and kidney disease, deaths from cardiopulmonary disease, lung cancer, hypertension, low birth weights in babies, and lower life expectancy for people who live near these strip-mining activities. Not to mention, the Senate recently repealed The Stream Protection Rule, a law that prevented coal mining waste from being dumped into nearby rivers and streams, further endangering the well-being of people who live in and around coal operations.
Such mining is also to blame for rampant deforestation, soil erosion, the development of sinkholes, the destruction of natural ecosystems, and biodiversity loss. Oh, and did we mention that it often involves the utter annihilation of entire mountaintops with explosives?
Is this the best hallmark for the agency supposedly charged with protecting our public lands? We think not – and many environmentalists agree. Countless organizations and individuals spoke out against the new image that represents the Bureau of Land Management, and rightly so. Greenpeace USA put it aptly:
Interestingly, the BLM has since updated their cover photo – changing it back to a more “natural” image of a man fishing. Perhaps this was done in response to such backlash as mentioned above.
But what is missed here is the fact that these complaints were never about an image alone – all one must do to understand the new focus of the BLM is glance below the photo of a man fishing to the “spotlight” section and read about Interior Secretary Zinke’s recent move to sign a lease for 56 million tons of coal in central Utah (this was don after he lifted an Obama-era restrictions on coal mining on public lands). This cosmetic change of the BLM page might signal that the government conscious of its image … but only superficially.
The fact is, nature is not ours to exploit and assault. It is alive in its own right, and abuses like these can cause it to quickly die out. If we don’t act now to protect these fundamental resources that serve us so completely, their demise could herald our end, too.
Renewable energy sources are plentiful and easy to amass, and so now, more than ever, we must urge our representatives to support growth in renewable sectors and put public and environmental health ahead of these antiquated and damaging fossil fuel interests. We must demand that the BLM support the vital needs of this nation’s people and public lands. And we must take it upon ourselves to put our money where our mouth is by making responsible energy and food choices. Because if you haven’t noticed, things are changing pretty quickly under this new administration, and those could easily spell doom if we don’t take a strong stand – and fast.
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Lead image source: Peabody Energy/Wikimedia Commons