Whit Richardson
Recently, Secretary Zinke proposed destructive rollbacks to the Bureau of Land Management’s 2016 Methane Waste Prevention rule, which was put in place to limit the waste of publicly-owned natural resources and reduce air pollution.

As a recreation-business owner and resident of Utah, I’ve spent significant time exploring the beautiful public lands our state has to offer. Many of my fondest memories come from times I’ve spent with friends and loved ones exploring our state’s pristine public lands. That’s why I opened my business, Poison Spider Bicycles, in Moab — to help others enjoy the beauty of Utah just as I have.

Small businesses like mine rely on recreationists and visitors who also share a passion for exploring the American outdoors. When Americans come to experience the beautiful public lands that Utah has to offer, they invest in local businesses like mine, and new jobs are created both in our parks and the outdoor recreation industry. Our public lands are more than just important community gathering places — they are key components of Western economies like the one here in Moab.

Unfortunately, the public lands that play such an important role in helping Utah thrive have come under attack by Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke and his cuts to commonsense safeguards to reduce waste. Recently, Zinke proposed destructive rollbacks to the Bureau of Land Management’s 2016 Methane Waste Prevention rule, which was put in place to limit the waste of publicly owned natural resources and reduce air pollution. According to BLM’s o_wn_ analysis, its latest proposal to replace the 2016 rule would actually reduce natural-gas supply from federal lands and would cost Americans more than $1 billion in wasted natural gas and pollution — this is unacceptable.

The rule, which aims to reduce the waste of over $330 million of publicly owned natural gas, requires companies drilling on public and tribal lands to reduce the leaking, venting or flaring of natural gas by regularly checking for and repairing leaking or broken equipment. Last year, hundreds of thousands of stakeholders expressed their overwhelming support for the rule, including 75 percent of Westerners. Even the Republican-controlled U.S. Senate voted to save it. Despite this strong support, Zinke has made it clear that he would rather give handouts to the oil and gas industry than stand up for Westerners and people across the country who support these commonsense methane safeguards.

The removal of this widely supported rule would have devastating impacts on both our economy and environment. The outdoor recreation industry supports 7.6 million jobs and generates $887 billion in consumer spending each year nationwide. If our public lands are polluted and unsafe, tourism will decline, consumer spending will plummet and decreased investment in Western towns will impact small businesses like Poison Spider substantially.

What’s more, by failing to protect our public lands today, we deprive future generations of Americans from exploring the outdoors as we do now. Our public lands offer some of the greatest opportunities for recreationists — hikers, bikers, hunters and fishers. However, Zinke’s proposal threatens the health of these landscapes and our kids’ opportunities to enjoy them. I cherish the memories I have of time well spent in the great outdoors. It’s disappointing to think future generations of Westerners may grow up without the rich experience of connecting with the lands we live on; it’s even more devastating to know that our nation’s chief land manager, someone who is responsible for supporting the multiple uses of our public landscapes, which includes their use for outdoor recreation, may decide they can’t have those opportunities.

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Zinke’s proposal to gut the rule makes it clear he doesn’t care about the Western families and business owners like me who live, work and play on these landscapes, or the visitors who come from around the world to enjoy them. Instead of selling out Westerners for billions of tons of wasted gas and millions of dollars in lost taxpayer revenues, Zinke needs to hold hearings in affected communities and extend the public comment period so he can listen to the overwhelming majority of Westerners, including recreation business owners like me, who support the 2016 methane waste rule because it helps our communities and economies thrive.