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First they dreamed of building a city, now they dream of drilling for oil. The Kanter family, aka real estate moguls of southern Florida, that is. And the location they have in mind is the acreage they own in the Everglades—a unique natural environment deemed globally significant because of its diverse wildlife, vegetation, and ecosystems. 

Today, the Everglades is half its original size. It has landed on the list of endangered world heritage areas, as animal and plant populations decline and pollution increases. Major culprits include the drainage of swamps and wetlands to make way for residential development and runoff of agricultural chemicals. By 2000, federal and state policymakers launched one of the world’s most ambitious watershed restoration programs.

Yet the current oil and gas industry mania to find and claim every potential deposit of oil and gas risks erasing any progress to protect our most wild and sacred places. Drilling in the Everglades, as well as Big Cypress National Preserve from where much of its water flows, is pure folly in a state with shrinking coastlines and compromised aquifers. Then there’s the plan to drill and build a pipeline in the famed Chaco Canyon region of New Mexico. And the reckless leasing of much of Pennyslvania’s state forests, parks, and water bodies to drillers.

The agencies in charge of these and many other fragile environments are legally required to allow the development of private minerals on public lands. They have conflicting mandates that require both the protection of natural areas and the regulation of oil and gas activities in them. But there’s also heavy bureaucratic feet-dragging, the result of never-ending political and industry pressure to hide the truth about negative impacts. 

It took several years for the US Bureau of Land Management to develop rules for hydraulic fracturing on public lands—the final adoption of which is now delayed by an industry lawsuit. The National Park Service started the process of revising its rules on private drilling on NPS lands in 2009—and keeps saying they’ll be finalized “soon.” 

But inaction is no excuse for allowing yet more damage to occur. That’s why Earthworks and its partners demand that until they get their regulatory act together, federal and state agencies should, at a minimum, hold off on issuing permits in such places as Big Cypress Preserve and Chaco Canyon. At the same time, there must also be No-Go Zones—places too unique, wild, and sacred to scar and pollute, or which are central sources of clean drinking water. 

Scientists recently warned that to avoid catastrophic climate change, a certain proportion of coal, gas, and oil reserves needs to stay untouched. From meeting this global challenge to satisfying local demands for clean water, leaving special places like the Everglades alone is a good place to start.

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