Public Land Policy after the Trump Administration: Is This a Turning Point?
Thursday, February 27, 2020
Professor John Leshy
University of California-Hastings College of Law
Since the Civil War, a strong, bipartisan consensus has developed in support of the national government’s owning large amounts of land. Over the last half-century, that consensus has favored managing more and more of these lands primarily for inspiration, education, human-powered recreation, and environmental conservation.
The Trump Administration has moved aggressively to open previously protected public lands to fossil fuel and other forms of intensive development and to roll back protections in a host of other ways, including starving and shrinking the agencies that manage these lands.
Is this the harbinger of a fundamental change in the trajectory of public land policy, or is it an aberration? Professor Leshy will be drawing upon material from his much-anticipated book, forthcoming from Yale University Press, with the working title Our Common Ground: A History of America’s Public Lands.
Air pollution first fell in China as the country locked down in
response to the novel coronavirus, COVID-19.
As the pandemic spread, shutdowns spread across the globe, and air
quality improved dramatically. These
improvements were largely attributable to reductions in passenger air travel,
reductions in industry operations, and far fewer commuters on the road. Everyone is anxious to get our economy back
on track and return to a sense of normalcy. But normalcy means a rapid increase
in greenhouse gas emissions. The massive
disruption of the pandemic has opened a temporary window – providing a view to
a cleaner world and the opportunity to ask ourselves, can we create a new
The death toll of the coronavirus is tragic, even more so because many deaths were avoidable. But according to the World Health Organization, four million people die prematurely from ambient air pollution every single year. Knowing that significant amounts of pollutants can be avoided through changes in human behavior and existing technologies, aren’t those four million premature deaths a year equally tragic?
There are important efficiency lessons to be learned from the
pandemic that could help shape a sustainable future. While not all office workers enjoy or can
work from home, many employees and employers are seeing the benefits. Transitioning a portion of the office
workforce to even a partial work-from-home workforce would have significant
effects. In addition to a reduced number
of commuters, employers could reduce their square footage of office space –
saving money and decreasing their carbon footprint. Consolidating
office space leaves more room for additional businesses and a diversified
economy. Reduced commuter traffic in
metropolitan areas means cleaner air for urban dwellers and the need for fewer
heat-trapping parking lots which could be repurposed for public spaces.
Business travel accounts for about 16% of all American
long-distance travel (National Household Travel Survey 2002). Modern video conferencing has allowed
businesses to continue operations during the shutdowns, drastically reducing related
travel. Similarly, remote learning
across the entire education spectrum has highlighted the necessity of stable
high-speed internet connections. Accordingly, one of the ways to capitalize on
these socio-economic trends and strengthen the economy is to prioritize the
development of reliable internet access across the entire country much like we
brought electricity to America through the Rural Electric Administration. Even with reliable internet access, remote
work/learning can be frustrating, but without a stable connection, it can
quickly become impossible. Often hitting
rural or lower-income families the hardest.
Many schools and businesses will want to resume face to face meetings,
but the pandemic has introduced virtual options to many who would have previously
dismissed the idea out of hand.
But as air travel picks back up, now is a time to consider
committing to buying carbon offsets. A
minimal investment (e.g. ~$8.oo for a round trip flight from Denver to San Francisco)
can help to internalize the cost to the environment of air travel (https://thegoodtraveler.org). Certain industries, like air travel, are
harder to decarbonize. Therefore
alternative, although imperfect, solutions allow individuals and corporations
to achieve net-zero emissions. The Good
Traveler is just one of many non-profits that offer carbon offsets, but they do
so in an effective and easy to use way.
These are just a few examples of permanent behavioral changes that
allow our economy to recover while improving public health and quality of life.
America’s energy mix continues to transform rapidly. Wind and solar power are becoming dominant
sources of electricity. While renewable
industries have suffered significant job losses due to the pandemic, solar and
wind electricity generation in the U.S. outpaced coal electricity generation
for multiple consecutive days in late April 2020. Abroad, the UK and Portugal have reported
multiple weeks of zero coal-fired electricity generation (https://www.calvert.com/impact.php?post=as-utilities-enable-work-from-home-economy-renewable-energy-provides-reliable-power-&sku=35722). While these achievements are partially
attributable to reduced energy demand from COVID-19 shutdowns, they demonstrate
how much renewable energy has become integral to our grid and the possibility
of a rapid transition from fossil fuels.
As intermittent sources of power such as solar and wind make up
more of our energy mix, improved storage capabilities are paramount. And like most technology, as storage capacity increases,
the cost will decrease – leading to a more robust electrical grid. And because
battery storage projects have a relatively small physical footprint, they tend
to be relatively simple to gain permit approval for development.
Distributed solar, battery storage, and microgrids provide the
resilience needed for communities to rebound after natural disasters, which we
know are becoming more frequent and severe due to climate change. While we have not witnessed significant electrical
disruptions due to COVID-19, Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico shows communities
are more resilient when they can generate their power locally. Homes with rooftop solar power were able to
begin reconstruction earlier because many of their other imminent needs were
already taken care of and they didn’t have to wait for transmission lines to be
The benefits of choosing renewable energy are dramatic for grid
stability and economics. These benefits
compound as they enhance air quality by reducing the consumption of fossil fuels. Renewable energy and improved batteries pave
the way for increased electric car ownership – providing a cheap reliable
source of fuel for vehicles while providing zero-emission transportation choices
for those who cannot or choose to not work remotely.
America is in a historic moment of awareness. We face a climate crisis, lost ground on environmental and public health protections, a massive federal deficit, significant economic hardship, systemic social injustice, and hardened political divisions that threaten our democracy. The demands we see on the streets to ensure equality under the law are inspiring disruptions to the status quo.
So the question remains – we know we can green our economic comeback, but will we?
University of New South Wales-Sydney Global Water Institute
The second episode of the GWI Global Water Matters podcast
features Anne Castle, member of the Water Policy Group and Senior Fellow at the
Getches-Wilkinson Center for Natural Resources, Energy, and the Environment at
the University of Colorado. In conversation with producer Gretchen Miller, Anne
discusses the management and future of the over-allocated Colorado River Basin,
its many competing interests, her personal experiences with the river and what
it was like to meet Barack Obama during her time as Assistant Secretary for
Water and Science at the U.S Department of Interior.
Anne Castle is a senior fellow at the Getches-Wilkinson Center for Natural Resources, Energy, and the Environment at the University of Colorado, focusing on western water policy issues. From 2009 to 2014, she was Assistant Secretary for Water and Science at the U.S. Department of the Interior where she oversaw water and science policy for the Department and had responsibility for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and the U.S. Geological Survey. While at Interior, Castle spearheaded the Department’s WaterSMART program, which provides federal leadership on the path toward sustainable water supplies, and was the driving force behind the 2010 federal MOU addressing sustainable hydropower. Castle also provided hands-on leadership on Colorado River issues and was the Chair of the Glen Canyon Dam Adaptive Management Work Group and a champion of Minute 319 between the US and Mexico. Castle is a recovering lawyer, having practiced water law for 28 years with the Rocky Mountain law firm of Holland & Hart.
We are facing a national public
health crisis that should be pulling the nation together. Yet the effects of
and reactions to COVID-19 track the fault lines of class, race, region, and
cultural affiliation that predate this crisis and will, absent concerted
national and collective effort, be exacerbated by it. These same themes—how can
we create shared spaces and common futures from unequal contexts?—dominated our
recent Martz Symposium. We share this recap of the conference to provide
inspiration and hope in these challenging times.
Land was a central theme at this year’s symposium. That may seem natural given the program’s theme, “A Green New Deal for the Public Lands?” But oftentimes, in legal discussions of public lands, the lands themselves get lost in the thicket of regulatory overlays. Here, land—and its meaning to different communities—took centerstage, as speakers throughout the day investigated and reconceptualized the lands that our federal government manages. Academics, community organizers, and advocates presented their visionary ideas of the value contained within our public lands, as well as the ways in which we can protect these lands.
The day got started with a powerful
critique from Alan Spears of the National Park Conservation Association. Spears
dissected an idea often embraced at public-lands conferences: Wallace Stegner’s
famous assertion that our national parks are “America’s best idea.” To Spears,
touting national parks as our best idea alienates people who find other
ideas far more impactful—important ideas like abolition, “one person, one
vote,” or de-segregation. So while Stegner’s slogan might serve as a rallying
cry for white environmentalists, Spears suggests that it fails to resonate with
communities of color. In this and other
ways, the messaging about national parks creates “a land apart.” Families work
hard and create homes throughout America, but our messaging suggests that “history,
culture, and narrative are things that happen elsewhere.”
Spears’ critique began to draw a
throughline that would connect many of the day’s talks: Land is so much more
than the geologic features or waterways that may appear on it; land truly
derives value through shared experiences, culture, traditions, and legacies.
For Spears, this meant we should not consecrate national parks as lands
inherently more valuable than others.
Oriana Sandoval’s presentation
picked up on this theme. Sandoval is the CEO of the Center for Civic Policy, an
organization that works to bring the voices of New Mexicans into policy
decisions in that state. Sandoval spoke of barriers of access to public lands for
her mostly Latinx and under-resourced constituency. She explained that these
barriers do more than exclude folks from beautiful lands. They prevent people
from connecting with a culture and heritage of which those lands are an integral
Her bold vision is to reconnect
New Mexicans with their public lands and to use those lands as an integral part
of the state’s transition away from its current oil-and-gas economy. Sandoval
sees outdoor recreation as a key economic driver for a post-extraction New
Mexico, and she has worked to ensure Latinx youth help form this economy. As
part of this work, her organization helped secure microgrants to provide kids
with outdoor equipment and better access to their public lands, all in the hopes
that it leads to a more inclusive recreation economy in the future.
Later, Professor Rebecca
Tsosie’s inspiring talk expanded on the theme even further. To Tsosie, lands
are “one and the same” with the people who inhabit them. Land contains vast
wealths of knowledge that people perceive and translate, and this knowledge
weaves itself into the cultures and traditions that make humans who we are.
Tsosie posited that if we are to create an ethic of sustainability among our
public lands, we need to develop an idea that ties the earth to its
inhabitants. This was one evil of
federal Indian policy: it divested peoples of their lands and therefore
separated them from this knowledge and culture. She also argued that federal
policies continue to miss the mark. For instance, federal wilderness protection—the
highest level of protection that we have for public lands—applies only to lands
that are completely devoid of humans.
All of these talks presented
conceptions of land that transcend geology and topology. Several speakers also
generated ideas on ways for the law to recognize the true value of our
lands. For instance, Professor Tsosie hailed the Bears Ears designation—and its
efforts to establish tribal co-management of the monument—as a move towards
acknowledging the presence of people on public lands and recognizing their use
of the land. Later in the day, Colorado
Law’s own Professor Sarah Krakoff critiqued the notion that public lands are
some distant medium for us to act on and project upon. She called for
reconceptualizing these lands as our collective commons.
Additionally, Professor Jessica Shoemaker
of the University of Nebraska delivered a defense, of sorts, of property law as
an adaptive tool that can respond to this changing notion of our lands. She recounted past development of “flexible
legal categories” of property—ones that go beyond the “fee simple absolute”—and
touted the ability of property law to accommodate new and progressive uses of
land. Current federal management of public lands (as well as Indian lands)
shows a lack of flexibility, perhaps springing from a fear among land managers
of relinquishing any control. But new, adaptive designations of property are
possible and have developed before.
The ideas presented at this
year’s symposium were fresh and innovative. Voices usually absent from these
spaces were amplified and gave insight into the connection between our lands
and people, tradition, culture, and more. The 2020 Martz Symposium provided an
invigorating opportunity to think outside the “box” of our traditional
environmental frameworks and turn a more critical eye to our land-management
The Getches-Wilkinson Fellows Program is a first-of-its-kind initiative designed to train the next generation of leaders in natural resources fields. The intensive two-year program will immerse the two Fellows in the real world challenges of water law and policy. The Fellows will address critical issues affecting western watersheds, conduct reform-oriented research on pressing issues, and interact with public and private sector leaders to inform policymaking. The Fellows will be actively engaged in water law reform in the public interest and will hone their leadership, communication, advocacy, and research skills. The overarching objective is to create a matchless educational and mentoring experience that will leapfrog their careers and prepare the Fellows to become leaders in their chosen practice areas.
“Fellows will get training from the most experienced people in the field, and then bring diverse voices and creative energy to the region’s most pressing natural resource challenges,” said Sarah Krakoff, Moses Lasky Professor of Law.
The Colorado River provides water and electricity for people throughout the basin states, including residents of Denver, Salt Lake City, Los Angeles, Phoenix, Tucson, Las Vegas, and Albuquerque. It irrigates over 3 million acres of crops and pasture; provides abundant recreational opportunities for rafting, fishing, boating, and hiking; and serves as habitat for a multitude of fish and wildlife species, including several endangered native fish. Increasingly, demand for this important natural resource is outstripping supply.
“In Colorado and beyond there is a rising need for thoughtful policy initiatives at all levels of government to manage water usage throughout the Colorado River Basin,” Krakoff said. “The GWC sees an opportunity to help address this unmet need, and similar ones throughout western watersheds, while training the next generation of outstanding and diverse leaders in water law.”
The Getches-Wilkinson Fellows program was initiated by a generous donation from David Bonderman – lawyer, business executive, and significant supporter of conservation initiatives. The matching funds came from an anonymous GWC supporter and the Water Funder Initiative – a collaborative effort to identify and activate promising water solutions through strategic philanthropic investments in the United States, starting in the West.
We are seeking exceptional lawyers early in their careers. The job description, requirements and application instructions are available here: Getches-Wilkinson Water Fellows
On behalf of the Salazar Center for North American Conservation, CSU Author: Courtney Massey
2020, the planet is facing existential threats from human-induced climate
change, species extinction, and rapid population growth – all of which
contribute to increasing pressure on and fragmentation of rural and urban
landscapes. At the same time, conservation efforts across North America that
work to address these challenges are complicated and often inhibited by
cultural, geographic, and political divides. In response, the Salazar Center for North American Conservation, based out of
Colorado State University in Fort Collins, has created the Connectivity Challenge to support innovation in conservation
and cross-boundary initiatives.
Salazar Center is uniquely positioned to support and mobilize efforts working
toward a healthier, more resilient future—and the Connectivity Challenge prize
is just one of the ways it’s doing just that. With dozens of partners across
research, practice, and policy – and the continued engagement and leadership of
its founder, former Secretary Ken Salazar – the Center is poised to make big
impacts in conservation.
this year, the Connectivity Challenge will award $100,000 to an
interdisciplinary team working on an innovative approach to landscape
conservation and connectivity in North America. The incentive prize encourages
new, inventive approaches to solving big conservation challenges in North
America and will support a team whose work removes barriers, catalyzes change,
builds capacity, or scales impact. The Center especially encourages proposals
that feature non-traditional applicants, ideas for projects that have
legislative impacts, and/or teams that include policy makers. The application
process for the prize has been designed to provide tangible benefits to all
applicants (not just the winning team) by building a community of interest,
providing expert feedback on all applications, and inviting finalists to
participate in a pitch event at the Center’s annual symposium in Denver, CO in September 2020 that will provide the
opportunity to present to peers and funding organizations.
are open now for the Connectivity Challenge. The first step in the application
process is for interested teams to register online by 5 p.m. MST March 19,
2020. For more information, and to register, visit ConnectivityChallenge.org.
Additional questions can be directed to Dominique Gómez, Salazar Center Program
Director, at email@example.com.
Massey is the Office & Administration Intern at the Salazar Center for
North American Conservation and splits her time between the Center and her
master’s program in Conservation Leadership at Colorado State University. The
Salazar Center supports and advances the health and connectivity of natural
systems and landscapes of the U.S., Canada, and Mexico — whether they be urban
or rural; working or wildlands; public or private. Its efforts are rooted in
the recognition that healthy natural systems bolster climate adaptation and
resilience, protect biodiversity, and sustain long-term human health. Its team
envisions a future where healthy, connected landscapes in North America promote
a rich diversity of life; play a critical role in responding to climate change;
ensure the production of clean air, water, and economic benefits for human
communities; and are conserved and protected across political borders
throughout the continent.
The Getches-Wilkinson Center for Natural Resources, Energy,
and Environment (GWC) at the University of Colorado Law School has raised
$840,000 to launch the GWC Fellows Program, a first-of-its-kind initiative that
will train the next generation of natural resource leaders.
The program will formally begin in spring 2020 with the hiring
of two full-time fellows, who will be selected through a competitive national
search in early 2020. With a focus on the water and the Colorado River in
particular, the first two fellows will address critical issues affecting western
watersheds, conduct reform-oriented research on pressing issues in the field,
and interact with public and private sector leaders to inform policymaking.
“Fellows will get training from the most experienced people in the field, and then bring diverse voices and creative energy to the region’s most pressing natural resource challenges,” said Sarah Krakoff, Moses Lasky Professor of Law and interim executive director of the Getches-Wilkinson Center.
The Colorado River provides water and electricity for people
throughout the region, including residents of Denver, Salt Lake City, Los
Angeles, Phoenix, Tucson, Las Vegas, and Albuquerque. It also irrigates over 3
million acres of crops and pasture; provides abundant recreational
opportunities for rafting, fishing, boating, and hiking; and serves as habitat
for a multitude of fish and wildlife species, including several endangered
native fish. Increasingly, demand is outstripping supply for this important
“In Colorado and beyond there is a rising need for thoughtful
policy initiatives at all levels of government to manage water usage throughout
the Colorado River Basin,” Krakoff said. “The GWC sees an opportunity to help
address this unmet need, and similar ones throughout western watersheds, while
training the next generation of outstanding and diverse leaders in water law.”
The GWC Fellows Program is supported by David Bonderman, a lawyer, businessman, and significant supporter of conservation initiatives, who contributed a matching grant of $420,000. Additional financial support came from an anonymous donor and the Water Funder Initiative, a collaborative effort to identify and activate promising water solutions through strategic philanthropic investments in the United States, starting in the West.
New Study of Colorado River Cutback Risks by GWC Senior Fellow, Anne Castle and University of New Mexico Water Resources Program Director, John Fleck
With a credible risk that declines in the Colorado River’s flow could force water curtailments in coming decades in Colorado and the rest of the Upper Colorado River Basin, communities need to think about what kind of insurance is needed, a new report argues.
A repeat of drought conditions seen in the first decade of the 20th century could nearly empty the Upper Basin’s primary storage reservoirs. “While the risk of that happening remains low in the short-term, the threat increases substantially over time, and regardless of the time frame, the consequences could be dire,” said Anne Castle, the study’s lead author – a loss of economic activity, jobs, income, and community benefits in cities and rural communities that depend on the water. “The chances that my house will burn down are low, but the result would be disastrous. So I buy insurance,” said Castle, a senior fellow at the Getches-Wilkinson Center for Natural Resources, Energy and the Environment at the University of Colorado Law School. “The question is – What kind of insurance against the risk of Colorado River water curtailment should water users buy?”
Castle will be discussing the study at the Upper Colorado River Basin Water Forum Nov. 13 at Colorado Mesa University in Grand Junction.
The report, written with University of New Mexico Water Resources Program Director John Fleck, connects the latest hydrology and climate science with an analysis of the legal framework governing the Colorado River’s allocation.
Drawing on water supply analyses by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and independent experts, the study finds that the risks are significant:
• A recent Bureau of Reclamation analysis found that a repeat of the conditions of the drought of the early 2000s could, in fewer than five years, drain Lake Powell to levels at which it would be unable to generate electricity.
• Water supply simulations commissioned by a group of western Colorado water agencies found a greater than one in three chance that flows could drop so far in the next decade that the ability of the Upper Colorado River Basin states – Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, and New Mexico – to meet their legal obligations to deliver Colorado River to downstream users in Nevada, Arizona,California, and Mexico would be in grave jeopardy.
Those hydrologic realities collide with legal institutions designed nearly a century ago that allocated far more water than the river has, without clear rules for handling sustained low flows.
The result, the report found, is significant risk of shortfall combined with uncertainty about whose water supplies would be cut, and by how much.
This suggests a need to prepare now, so communities are not blindsided, the report’s authors write.
• Negotiating legal agreements among the Colorado River Basin states to clarify rules for sharing shortages
• Setting up voluntary, temporary, compensated water conservation programs now to bank conserved water as a hedge against risk
• Waiting – not taking proactive action, but rather letting the chips fall where they may, an option the authors warn is high stakes poker
The authors caution against litigation against the Lower Basin states of Arizona, California, and Nevada as a path to settling the issues. Such litigation could drag on for many years, creating uncertainty and hindering the types of collaborative agreements that have kept the River sustainable so far, they argue.
Energy generation is a classic example of a locally undesirable land use (LULU). Everyone needs energy, but many residents fervently oppose proposals to build a wind farm on a local mountaintop or hydraulically fracture a gas well near their neighborhood. The response is therefore typically a “not in my back yard,” or NIMBY, argument. But changes in technology, markets, and the law are making energy different from other LULUs. These changes allow communities to make more choices about the types of energy they prefer and to better address concerns about undesirable energy development within their locality. From a technological perspective, advances in energy storage and distributed (on-site) energy generation mean that large generating equipment and transmission lines can sometimes be avoided in places where there is strong opposition to these land uses. Technological changes such as horizontal drilling also allow oil and gas companies to locate miles from the target formation, thus avoiding certain surface locations. (Pipelines are still a challenge, though.) In terms of markets, energy development is moving towards economically competitive distributed solar and mid-scale renewable generation coupled with battery storage—also aided by subsidies and mandates. Finally, a range of legal solutions, such as community choice aggregation, updated building and zoning codes, locally-applicable taxes on hydraulically fractured wells, and bonding requirements increasingly empower communities to better align energy development with residents’ preferences, or, at minimum, to better address the damages of energy development.