October 22, 2019

Udall Lays out Bold Conservation Agenda in Address at Center for American Progress: ‘Confronting the Nature Crisis’

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Senator Tom Udall (D-N.M.), lead Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment and Related Agencies, delivered the keynote address at the Center for American Progress ‘Confronting the Nature Crisis’ event. U.S. Representative Deb Haaland (D-N.M.), and journalist Elizabeth Shogren joined Udall for the discussion on the extinction and conservation crisis.

In his remarks, Udall laid out a bold conservation agenda for the future to address the nature, extinction, and climate crises, and announced a major new resolution he is introducing with Senator Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) – the Thirty by Thirty Resolution to Save Nature.

Below are Udall's opening remarks as prepared for delivery. Video of Udall's remarks is available HERE.

Thank you, Deb.  Deb is a great friend of mine.  I’m so proud to serve alongside her on behalf of the people of New Mexico.  And I’m proud of her work on climate change, environmental protection, supporting Native communities, and so much more.  She hit the ground running in January and hasn’t slowed down.

Thank you, John, [Podesta] and the Center for American Progress for your tremendous work.  In this challenging time, you have stood up for our democracy and for our nation’s values.  Values like protecting our environment – the reason we’re gathered here today. 

John Muir once said, “Any fool can destroy trees.”

Boy, was he right.

President Trump and his henchmen have foolishly hacked away at our nation’s proud conservation legacy. 

Their list of crimes against the environment is almost never-ending.  They have: 

- Decimated Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments.

- Bullied scientists in their rush to drill the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

- Weakened protections for endangered species in the middle of an extinction crisis.

- Drafted plans to chop down America’s largest remaining old growth forest,

- Dismantled migratory bird protections, even though we’ve lost 3 billion birds in North America in the past 50 years.

- Put an anti-public lands zealot in charge of public lands.

- And abandoned any and all efforts to fight climate change.

There’s no environmental protection that’s safe under President Trump.

He has the worst environmental record of any president – in history.

Beyond the headlines and behind the scenes, the Trump administration is methodically taking away protections from every acre of public land it can reach.

It’s a war on conservation of staggering scale and scope.

This administration is doing everything possible to take public lands out of public hands – and put them in the hands of their friends in the fossil fuel industry. 

Through massive oil and gas lease sales, the administration has put nearly 19 million acres – an area the size of South Carolina – on the table for extraction.

All told, 90 percent of the public lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management are now open to energy development. 

The Trump administration’s war on conservation is being waged in the pages of BLM’s resource management plans. The Trump administration is erasing conservation from these documents.

A recent analysis by Pew Trusts found that 6 BLM land management plans for 5 Western states propose to eliminate 94 percent of the Areas of Critical Environmental Concern established in prior plans.  

The Trump BLM recommends protecting just three one-hundredths of a percent [0.03] of the lands the agency has identified with wilderness characteristics.

Not all of this will stand. These actions are deeply unpopular, often illegal, and wrong for the country. We continue to fight these attacks in the halls of Congress and in the courts. 

And there’s no doubt that the next President must take bold action on day one to undo the environmental damage caused by the Trump administration.  

But let’s be clear: only reversing the Trump administration’s damage would be like be applying a band-aid to a life-threatening wound.

Humans are destroying nature at a devastating rate.  In the United States, we are losing a football field of natural area every 30 seconds.  Our wetlands, forests and coasts are being destroyed.  States have identified more than 12,000 species that need better protection.  And climate change is threatening every corner of our earth.  

The Trump administration has thrown gasoline on the flames, but the house was already on fire.

Now, here’s the part where I tell you there’s hope – because there is. 

In 1963, my father sounded the alarm about the loss of nature in his book, The Quiet Crisis. President Kennedy wrote the introduction to that book, and he said: “The crisis may be quiet, but it is urgent.”  

In partnership with other conservation leaders, my father helped:

- Pass the Land and Water Conservation Fund Act,

- Establish the national wilderness system,

- Create the National Trails System and Wild and Scenic Rivers protections, and

- Protect millions more acres of public lands as national monuments, parks, and seashores. 

In the span of a few years, our nation drastically deepened its commitment to the land and waters that sustain us.  

Today, just as we did 50 years ago, we must write a new playbook to address the climate and nature crises.  We must act with urgency.

My vision has three main elements:

First, we must save nature. 

Today, I am excited to announce that I am introducing a resolution in the Senate – to set a national goal of protecting 30 percent of lands and waters by 2030.  The “Thirty by Thirty Resolution to Save Nature” recognizes that nature – like climate change – is reaching a tipping point. Many ecosystems and wildlife species are nearing the point of no return.  

The resolution reflects the will of the scientific community – and scientists like E.O. Wilson, who says that we need to protect half the planet to save the whole.  Protecting and restoring 30 percent of our lands and waters by 2030, with more protected in the decades following, is a necessary step to stem the collapse of our natural systems.

This is the mass mobilization we need – the collective action that will save the planet.

Second, we must face down climate change with the urgency it requires.  To do so, we should make our public lands pollution free.  Emissions from fossil fuels extracted on public lands account for nearly one quarter of the nation’s carbon dioxide emissions.  This shortchanges taxpayers, and robs current and future generations of a healthy environment. 

I’ve introduced legislation to protect Chaco Canyon from oil and gas development. 

And I am working on a bill to reform leasing to stop the giveaways. 

But, ultimately, we must conduct a top to bottom review of the program to make sure it’s in line with our national climate goals.  We know we must eventually transition away from finite fossil fuels.  

Instead of being a source of pollution, public lands can be part of the solution.  And instead of a single-minded focus on fossil fuels, we need an inclusive approach that gets us to net zero carbon pollution for public lands.

As we transition, we must support and protect communities, tribes and states that have relied on fossil fuels.  Transitioning to a clean energy economy is for everyone, and no one can be left out.  

Third, and finally, under my vision, we will undertake all these actions with equity and inclusion as our north star.  We can’t ignore the legacy of toxic pollution that has harmed so many low-income communities and communities of color.  We cannot ignore the centuries of desecration of Native heritage and lands. 

Our conservation work must provide equitable access to nature and a just distribution of its benefits.  We must ensure environmental justice for all. The future of our planet – and of humanity itself – depends on it. 

I lay out this vision for public lands having already announced this is my last term in the Senate. But as I have said many times – this is not retirement.  I will do everything in my power to achieve this vision, inside and outside the halls of Congress.  I am committed to continuing this work after I leave the Senate, with all of you, wherever that may be.  I owe it to my father, and I owe it to my daughter, and we all owe it to generations to come.