Interior Has Bad Case of Climate “Cow Blindness”
Failure to Address Commercial Livestock Climate Impacts Invites Lawsuits
Washington, DC — Despite claiming climate change is a top priority, the Interior Department operates its largest program – commercial livestock grazing – without even assessing, let alone mitigating, its major adverse climate effects, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The group is urging Interior to better manage its vast rangelands to increase soil resilience, curb the spread of invasive species, reduce wildfire vulnerability, and stem spreading desertification, to address deleterious climate change repercussions.
Operated through its Bureau of Land Management (BLM), Interior’s public lands commercial grazing program issues some 18,000 permits covering 155 million acres, an expanse roughly equivalent to California and Oregon, combined. These lands provide forage for approximately 1.5 million cattle, which greatly decrease these lands’ ability to sequester carbon. Yet, BLM –
- Still conducts environmental reviews that do not assess any climate impacts, contrary to clear legal mandates that all effects – both short-term and cumulative – be considered;
- Allows rampant overgrazing, such that a third of its lands fail the agency’s own minimum rangeland health standards for soil, vegetation, and water quality, and are thus far less resilient to climate ramifications; and
- Does not manage rangelands as carbon sinks to absorb atmospheric releases.
“As measured by both land area and on-the-ground impact, commercial grazing is Interior’s biggest program, yet its climate consequences are not even an afterthought,” stated PEER Executive Director Tim Whitehouse, noting that the livestock sector requires a significant amount of forage and has an important role in greenhouse gas emissions. “Interior should not be cowed by baseless right-wing charges of regulating ‘cow farts.’ Rather, increasing climate resilience of America’s rangeland requires a much higher quality of land management by BLM.”
The PEER analysis warns that the type of successful litigation challenging oil and gas permits, pipelines, and transmission lines for failure to address climate change are on the horizon for its commercial livestock program. It recommends several steps Interior could take to better protect rangelands from climate impacts but none of them appear to be on the agenda of the Climate Task Force that Interior created last year.
“After the latest Supreme Court decision curtailing the Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to regulate greenhouse gas emissions, all other avenues for federal redress of climate change become that much more critical,” added Whitehouse, noting that conditions on the majority of BLM rangelands that have been assessed are so bad that they cannot be counted toward the Biden America the Beautiful 30×30 goal of using conservation as a key climate strategy. “Interior’s embrace of meaningful range reform will be an indication of whether its climate commitment is real or just hot air.”