Our public lands are the nation’s greatest treasure and keeping them free of fossil fuel exploitation is a top priority. Nearly a quarter of U.S. carbon dioxide emissions can be traced to public lands. Those same lands function as a sink that sucks up and stores carbon from the atmosphere, offsetting about 15 percent of the nation’s CO2 emissions.
In 2017, the $689 billion outdoor industry pushed the Outdoor Retailer Show organizers to move our annual gathering out of Utah, because of Utah state legislators and then-Gov. Gary Herbert’s work to undo Bears Ears National Monument’s protection and open it up to fossil fuel development. With that effort they showed a commitment to fossil fuel company profits over the health of the state’s people and its $6.4 billion outdoor recreation economy.
Now, Utah’s Governor Cox and the Utah Legislature are asking for the OR Show to return, while at the same time working on a lawsuit to reopen the recently redesignated national monuments to irreversible fossil fuel drilling.
The governor has given Emerald Expositions, the OR Show’s parent company, a tempting offer to bring the show back to Salt Lake City. And he has good reason to want it back, the biannual OR Shows would bring approximately $56 million annually to his state. But the problem is that the pressure on Utah’s public lands hasn’t changed in the five years since the show left the Beehive state.
The OR Show is an important platform for our industry to network, learn, incubate new brands and organize around efforts to diversify the outdoors and protect the environment. The challenges facing OR Show’s organizers in the last few years have been monumental; we are grateful that OR has persevered.
But to be a true success, the revenue that industry events generate in a region must align with the outdoor communities’ values and priorities. Supporting leaders who would desecrate indigenous lands and open the doors to new fossil fuel development, against the warnings of the International Energy Agency, puts profit at odds with those values. Protecting these lands is a moral, as well as a business priority for the outdoor industry; they are both where we pursue our passions and are a source of outdoor activity revenue.
Bears Ears is an important spiritual place for neighboring tribes, provides world class outdoor recreation opportunities, and is a national treasure. By suing the federal government to roll back an important commitment to conservation (made with full legal authority) by two presidents, proponents of the lawsuit are again putting fossil fuel company profits, ahead of the bipartisan outdoor community and the majority of Utahans, who want more protections for water, air quality and wildlife habitat.
Utah’s governor and Legislature have an opportunity to do so much good for people, the environment, and recreation and create jobs by embracing the current shift in how we source, distribute, and consume energy toward a sustainable future. And they can do all of this while keeping voters happy: a bipartisan seven-in-ten Western voters support a policy that would make national public lands a net-zero source of carbon pollution by 2030. By withdrawing the lawsuit, the governor and Legislature can show they care about Utah’s 83,000 outdoor recreation jobs and earn the return of the OR Show.
Mario Molina is the Executive Director of Protect Our Winters, a 501c3 nonprofit that engages and mobilizes the outdoor sports community, including POW’s 50 million person Outdoor State, to become effective climate champions through educational initiatives and political advocacy.