Fact-check: Herbert’s team wrong on the facts, and on the wrong side of Moab MLP

Utahns from across the spectrum—small business owners, local officials, conservationists, and sportsmen and sportswomen—have hailed progress on the BLM’s proposed Master Leasing Plan as a model for how to plan for energy development on public lands.

Unfortunately, Gov. Gary Herbert’s is ignoring this diverse set of voices and calling for a return to the days of the Bush administration, when, in the 11th hour, BLM issued dozens of leases right next to Arches and Canyonlands national parks in Moab, as well as in other sensitive places. His Director of the Public Lands Policy Coordinating Office, Kathleen Clarke, a former BLM director during the Bush administration, is now spreading half-truths and misinformation about the impacts of the Moab MLP.

Here’s some of what she had to say in a recent story, and the facts:

Clarke claim: “Pointing to the agency’s own analysis, Clarke said the [MLP] will result in nearly $2 billion in lost economic output and $277 million in lost state and local revenues over the next 15 years.”

Reality: This claim wrongly assumes that the MLP closes the entire area to mineral development, and it ignores the economic value of Moab’s outdoor recreation economy.

In actuality, the proposed MLP strikes a careful balance between development and other uses of public lands, like recreation. This common-sense approach is a win-win not just for Moab, but also Utah’s economy; according to BLM, the proposed MLP will generate $1 billion in economic output from mineral development and $761 million from recreation and tourism on BLM lands alone – visitation to Arches and Canyonlands brings in another $262 million every year.

Further, Ms. Clarke completely ignores the difficult realities of the commodity markets. Oil and gas prices continue to hover around record lows. And, as BLM explains in the proposed MLP, declining potash prices are “not sufficient to allow for economically viable potash development in the Planning Area.”

Clarke claim: “The restrictions will cut the mainstay of San Juan County’s tax base, of which 45 percent was derived in 2013 from energy-related properties. . . .”

Reality: This is literally half the story. In Grand County, where the other half of the planning area is located, tourism-related taxes provide twice as much revenue as natural resources-related taxes ($6 million v. $3.1 million), offering another reason why a balanced plan, one that provides for energy development and protects the area’s world-class recreation resources, makes the most sense for eastern Utah.

The proposed MLP will have little impact on current mineral revenues in San Juan County, as the bulk of mineral development in the county occurs outside of the MLP area.

Clarke claim: “Energy and mining jobs are the highest paying jobs in Grand and San Juan counties, paying more than twice the local average, making the projected loss of over 1,500 jobs especially painful for local economies. . . .”

Reality: Energy and mining jobs provide only 2 and 9 percent of jobs in Grand and San Juan counties, respectively.  To compare, in Grand County, tourism-related industries, like Retail Trade and Accommodation and Food Services, provide 14.6 and 32.5 percent of jobs, and in San Juan County, Government (38.2%), Education, Health and Social Services (15.1%), and Accommodation and Food Services (13.1%) all provide vastly more jobs than the energy and mining sector.  This is why balance is so important, and the Moab MLP provides that balance.

These mistruths are unsurprising coming from the office of a Governor who has been overwhelmingly supported by the oil and gas industry. On the ground in Moab the facts are clear: the MLP puts recreation values on equal footing with energy development, because those are the economic needs of the community.

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