March 25, 2019

Op-ed by Maryland State Delegate Pat Young

The people of Maryland understand that the sustainability of our lands depends on us – all of us. We know that proper stewardship of these lands is essential to the continued health of our communities, State and Nation which we all serve.

I stand with an unique group of individuals who are both Veterans and elected officials. Today we hold another common bond, that of being a part of the Elected Officials to Protect America’s Land. We are dedicated to the preservation and protection of America’s public lands. We feel that this is our duty, as veterans who served to protect this nation from threats foreign and as elected officials who serve to craft sound domestic policy in the best interest of our constituents.

Last summer, 80 of us signed and sent a letter to the Interior Secretary in support of the reauthorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund. We visited seven Senator’s offices in D.C. to voice our staunch defense of the LWCF. A week after our meetings on Capitol Hill legislation containing language to permanently fund the LWCF was voted out of committee. Recently the Senate passed sweeping conservation legislation which included LWCF funding. Now it’s law.

But President Trump’s tenure we’ve seen the largest reduction of protected lands in American history and more companies apply for permits to explore drilling and mining. The oil and gas industries aren’t keen on the LWCF for multiple reasons. One being, the funds it uses come from offshore oil and gas royalties, not from taxpayers.

According to federal and United Nations reports if we don’t mitigate climate change there will be more catastrophic weather events. Two other reports revealed that our ocean temperatures are rising far faster than projected.

We now know that our fishing industries are at risk because of climate change. Our prized blue crabs may vanish. A recent ICCP report confirmed that in 2017 and 2018 CO2 in the atmosphere increased at drastic rates. CO2 rains down into our oceans softening the shells of our crabs, muscles and oysters. Thousands of jobs are at stake, as well as our culture, because of this ocean acidification along with rising ocean temperatures.

Being good stewards means taking care of our public land and waterways. Without protections and investments for our public lands, climate change will worsen.

Blue Crabs for Sale – Arthur Avenue

We must be proactive. The permanent reauthorization of the LWCF helps. Since its inception in 1964, Maryland has received over $200,000 million from the LWCF in grants, that have been matched by the state and/or non-profits guaranteeing the stewardship of our public lands.

The LWCF has provided recreational opportunities to all Americans and has been a source of revenue for states and local governments as well as a huge job creator. The Bureau of Economic Analysis concluded that every $1.00 of LWCF investment yields a return of at least $4.00 in value.

America’s public lands are national treasures and must be managed with care. We can find a balance between smart development and conservation rather than giving handouts to oil, gas and mining interests.

One of the rights we veterans fought for is the freedom of access for all Americans to our public lands. But the President’s nominee for Interior Secretary, David Bernhardt, is an ex- oil lobbyist with deep ties to corporate polluters.

In a year and a half, Bernhardt has made his mark on public lands by reversing key Obama-era climate change policies, and more recently, prioritizing oil and gas drilling at the expense of furloughed government employees.

He has a solid track record of doing favors for his industry friends at our expense. Bernhardt’s ties to the fossil fuel industry are so numerous, he is rumored to have to carry a card with him to keep track of his potential conflicts of interest. Bernhardt’s has too many conflicts of interest and his recent deeds clearly show his loyalties are not with the American public. He should not be appointed.

Please, join me not letting an oil lobbyist, Bernhardt, become Sec. of the Interior so we all can breathe easier and know future generations will be able to enjoy our blue crabs and recreate in our public lands, which embody our American spirit. It is our duty to stand up for future generations. Protecting our public lands is our first line of defense against climate change.