by Matt Lee-Ashley – Guest Contributor & Nicole Gentile – Guest Contributor Nov 5, 2015 10:11am
In what is being hailed as a “landmark” conservation policy, President Obama on Tuesday released a presidential memorandum establishing that energy, mining, and other development projects on America’s public lands should result in a net benefit — or at minimum no net loss — for the nation’s rivers, lands, and wildlife resources. “We all have a moral obligation to the next generation to leave America’s natural resources in better condition than when we inherited them,” President Obama said in the memo. “It is this same obligation that contributes to the strength of our economy and quality of life today.” The “no net loss” memo instructs federal agencies to establish clear standards by which they seek to avoid, mitigate, or offset the impacts of mining, drilling, transmission, timber, and other development projects on federally-managed lands and waters. If damages are unavoidable, agencies are encouraged “to promote investment by the non-profit and private sectors in restoration or enhancement of natural resources.” The presidential directive could help spark new private investment in conservation and the expansion of conservation financing strategies such as mitigation banking. “Across the country, the private sector is increasingly looking for opportunities to invest in solutions that restore natural resources,” writes Christy Goldfuss, managing director of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, in a blog post. “Impact investors like these seek measurable environmental benefits alongside conventional return on capital.” Conservation groups praised the new policy and its direction that agencies first aim to avoid damages to sensitive environmental resources when reviewing proposed development projects. “This is a significant advance in how our nation both develops and conserves our natural resources,” said Mark R. Tercek, President and CEO of The Nature Conservancy. “In the face of accelerated interest in developing our country’s energy resources and building transmission and other related infrastructure, agencies have seen that landscape-level planning, carried out in advance, can result in significant benefits for both industry and nature.”
Alongside the presidential memorandum, the Department of the Interior (DOI) on Tuesday released new planning guidance that directs land managers to conduct earlier, landscape-level planning to help keep development projects away from environmentally sensitive areas. Deputy Secretary of the Interior Michael Connor noted that DOI’s agencies will aim to build on the strategies the DOI has deployed to reduce the environmental impacts of utility-scale solar plants on public lands and to create a path for the recovery of the greater sage grouse. A trade association representing oil and gas companies, many of which are drilling on national forests and other public lands, criticized the presidential memorandum. “Setting in stone a no net loss ideal essentially puts wildlife and other natural resource values above human needs,” said the Western Energy Alliance’s Kathleen Sgamma in USA Today. The Obama presidential memorandum echoes a successful policy implemented by President George H.W. Bush and expanded by President Bill Clinton that set a goal of “no net loss” of wetlands in the United States. This wetlands policy is credited with reducing the pace at which riparian areas in the U.S. are disappearing and with sparking private sector investment in wetland conservation.
President Obama takes a critical step to help encourage private investment in natural resource conservation by signing a Presidential Memorandum to strengthen environment America’s iconic landscapes and natural treasures attract visitors from all over the world, fueling local economies and supporting a $646 billion national outdoor economy.
November 3, 2015 at 12:30 PM ET by Christy Goldfuss White House Council on Environmental Quality
Since taking office, President Obama has taken unprecedented action to invest in our natural resources and work with American business leaders who understand that taking action to increase environmental protections is good for the future of our planet and their bottom line. Last month, the White House announced that 81 companies from all 50 states signed the American Business Act on Climate Pledge to commit to reducing emissions and support a strong international climate agreement. And just two weeks ago, the Secretary of Labor made a crucially important announcement about pension investing with environmental, social, and governance (ESG) factors in mind. This week, the President took another significant step to encourage American businesses to invest in conservation, signing a Presidential Memorandum to accelerate restoration efforts and incentivize private investment in our land, water and wildlife. Across the country, the private sector is increasingly looking for opportunities to invest in solutions that restore natural resources. Impact investors like these seek measurable environmental benefits alongside conventional return on capital. For example, in September, investors began restoring more than 23,000 acres of wetlands in northern Minnesota. The area, which is one of the most important bird habitats in the state and home to many other significant plant and animal species, was drained in the early 1900s and abandoned. Decades later, the area is now being voluntarily restored in exchange for credits which can eventually be used to offset smaller areas of wetlands lost to development elsewhere in the state. Similar approaches, known as wetland or mitigation banks, have successfully encouraged private developers to invest in conservation and have led to the protection of more than 800,000 acres of wetlands and important habitat. This announcement builds on a series of efforts by the Administration, including the EPA Water Infrastructure and Resiliency Finance Center and the DOE Clean Energy Investment Center, to address the private sector demand for impact investment opportunities.
As communities across the country experience the impacts of climate change like increasingly severe wildfires, droughts and extreme storms, they are also having devastating effects on America’s natural resources. While President Obama has taken bold action to protect our land, water and wildlife, new partnerships and innovative solutions are needed to address the increasing costs to our natural resources. Today’s announcements are a critical step forward for finding these solutions to truly protect our natural treasures for future generations.