On Wednesday, Apr. 21, Republican governors from 15 states sent a letter to the White House questioning the authority wielded by the Biden-Harris Administration in Executive Order 14008, “Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad,” which was issued on Jan. 27, 2021. Section 216 of the Order directs the Secretary of the Interior, combined with the Secretary of Agriculture and other senior officials, to develop a program to conserve at least 30 percent of the lands and waters in the United States by 2030. The Order does not identify which lands may be targeted by the 30×30 program. 

In the joint letter, led by Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts, the GOP state leaders assert they are unaware of any constitutional or statutory authority for the President, the U.S. Department of the Interior, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, or any other federal agency to set aside and permanently conserve 30 percent of all land and water in the United States. The governors further point out that Executive Order 14008 fails to reference that such authority exists. The letter goes on to state:

“While the Order does not identify which lands may be targeted by the program, the Department of Interior released a fact sheet on the same day finding that only 12 percent of America’s lands are currently “conserved,” the level of restriction, it appears, your Administration is seeking under the new policy. Included in the figure are Wilderness lands, National Parks, National Wildlife Refuges, State Parks, National Monuments, and private lands with permanent conservation easements.”

The governors, who stated their commitment to ensuring all lands within their states provide abundant habitats for wildlife species, urged a more proactive approach towards working with states on environmental conservation, maintaining their right to manage their lands and waters free from federal interference. The governors noted that, while a few states are without large areas of federal land, some Western states contain vast amounts of land in the categories mentioned above. They expressed genuine concern over any effort to “enlarge the federal estate or further restrict the use of public lands in our states.” In the event there is authority for such an endeavor, the governors asserted: 

“Obtaining the 30 percent goal from state or private land would require your Administration to condemn or otherwise severely limit the current productive uses of such lands, infringing on the private property rights of our citizens and significantly harming our economies.”

The letter remarks that, despite the imposed time limit of 90 days and the directive to work with State, local, tribal, and territorial governments, agricultural and forest landowners, fishermen, and other key stakeholders on the 30×30 program, the governors have not been adequately consulted by any federal agency. Instead, on Feb. 11, the Department of Interior reversed Secretarial Order 3388, revoking the policy requiring consent from states and their local governments for federal land acquisition under the Land and Water Conservation Fund

The state leaders point out that, while Congress determines land-use policies for federal land, states have sole regulatory authority to govern other lands within their states. Moreover, Congress, through the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976 (FLPMA), the National Forest Management Act of 1976 (NFMA), the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA), and other laws, has specifically directed the federal executive branch to coordinate land management policies with states and their local governments and tribes. Notwithstanding, the Biden Administration has failed to exercise any of the directives dictated by the statutes and by the very provisions of the Order.

The governors emphasized to the president that “states are not simply additional stakeholders to consult in your policy development; states are essential partners and the leaders in developing innovative policies that already appropriately conserve lands, waters, and wildlife for the American people,” adding:

“Nowhere in the laws of our nation is the authority delegated by Congress to the President or executive agencies to unilaterally change the policies governing land use in America. Section 216 of the Order appears to be a clear overreach of executive authority, which infringes on the sovereignty of the states and rights of the citizens. We cannot and will not allow this to happen.”