Public lands generate about 4.5 times more atmospheric carbon than they are currently able to absorb, according to a new report from the Center for American Progress. In short, oil and gas drilling is outpacing the capacity of our forests and grasslands to capture the carbon that is being emitted.

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Strip mine in the Powder River Basin in Wyoming. Photo credit: Bureau of Land Management

The report cites analysis commissioned by The Wilderness Society, which showed that fossil fuel extraction and combustion on public lands make up 23 percent of America’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Every year, public lands are used for the extraction of:

  • 42.1 percent of our nation’s coal
  • 26.2 percent of its oil
  • 17.8 percent of its natural gas 

America’s public lands should fulfill the opposite purpose by providing landscapes that naturally absorb and store carbon. But with increasing development, carbon emissions from public lands more than quadruple the amount that these lands are capable of absorbing, according to the report.

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Unfortunately, public lands are also “‘ground zero’ for the effects of a warming world: glaciers are disappearing from Glacier National Park, polar bears are losing their Arctic habitat and water supplies in the Colorado River are diminishing,” says the report.

America’s wildlands deserve better protection, which is why we work to support responsible developmentwell-sited renewable energy projects and forest restoration efforts nationwide. 

Center for American Progress’ assessment that a carbon-emissions reduction plan for public lands should be a crucial component of President Obama’s Climate Action Plan.

While America’s prized lands may no longer be able to balance our needs, our policies need to.

Visit EcoWatch’s ENERGY page for more related news on this topic.

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