In 2020, the Utah Legislature received two sobering in-depth reports it had commissioned. The first was titled “Utah Roadmap: Positive Solutions for Climate & Air Quality,” which highlighted the horrific, substantial threats that climate change and poor air quality posed to our economy, quality of life, and our residents’ health.
The other detailed report, by the Great Salt Lake Advisory Council, highlighted the ongoing existentially threatening situation that could turn the lake into a carcinogenic “dusty playa” and the policies required to save it.
Because of the substantial federal ownership of land in Utah, we need the additional leadership and support of the federal government to successfully deal with these real and building threats to our economy and our communities. In the past four years, the Interior Department, most recently run by oil and gas lobbyist David Bernhardt, has been everything but that. Fossil fuel extraction and mining have eviscerated all other purposes of our public lands and our bedrock, health protecting, environmental laws.
This policy of “energy dominance” has served only to help oil and gas CEOs while leaving taxpayers, including oil and gas workers, behind. It poses a clear threat to our state’s $12.3 billion outdoor recreation economy, which depends on thriving public lands and directly employs 110,000 jobs.
President-elect Joe Biden’s secretary of the Interior nominee, Rep. Deb Haaland, D-N.M., is fortunately the opposite of Bernhardt. She will be a brilliant, tenacious, forward-looking partner to Utah and help us secure the health of our residents, our diverse and vibrant economy, and a high quality of life for all, not just some of our people.
She understands the critical role public lands must play in addressing the climate crises, water supply integrity, environmental justice and evolving economy. She knows that our public lands are America’s best idea and are what differentiate us from nearly any other country in the world. And she is committed to ensuring that the transition from a fossil-fuel based economy is a just transition — one that protects the livelihoods of oil and gas workers and the communities that depend on them. As the former CEO of Black Diamond, I know that Haaland would be a champion for our public lands and would be an important ally to our thriving outdoor recreation economy.
Not only would Haaland be a compelling visionary leader at Interior, she would also be the first Native American in this role, giving her a firsthand understanding of our country’s obligations to tribal nations. She would also bring the firsthand insights of a successful small-business entrepreneur who put herself through school, a general manager, a tribal administrator, the child of career military parents, a board member of a billion-dollar corporation, and a highly respected two-term congresswomen from New Mexico, a state that shares many commonalities with Utah. She understands our challenges, including that of making the economic transition of our public lands from extractive to more sustainable, environmentally sound, future oriented ones.
Deb Haaland is all about looking out the windshield and embracing the future rather than staring in the rearview mirror to cling onto the dying industries and policies of the past. Deb Haaland is a person who will partner with us to not only address the huge threats of climate change, dirty air and a disappearing Great Salt Lake, but also can help us in using our public lands to create that “more perfect union” that we aspire to achieve.
It is imperative that Utah’s senators — Mitt Romney and Mike Lee — vote to confirm this exceptionally qualified nominee.
Peter Metcalf is the founder and former CEO of Black Diamond Equipment, vice chairman of the Conservation Lands Foundation and board member of the outdoor industry’s Conservation Alliance.