(CN) – Spending on outdoor recreation outpaced Big Oil’s contribution to the U.S. economy according to federal statistics released Thursday, prompting critics to renew their attacks on Trump administration policies of ramping up oil and gas leases on or near public lands.
Outdoor recreation economy accounted for 2.2 percent of GDP at $412 billion in 2016, statistics released Thursday by the U.S. Bureau of Economic Activity indicate. The oil and gas industry meanwhile accounted for $162 billion in economic activity the same year, or 0.9 percent of GDP.
The data – representing the first time the bureau has compiled detailed economic information on outdoor recreation – give ammunition to critics of the Trump administration’s industry-friendly approach to public lands.
“All of this data underscores that outdoor recreation is a significant and growing contributor to the U.S. economy – we strongly encourage members of Congress to invest in public lands as these numbers demonstrate the return on investment,” said Amy Roberts, executive director at Outdoor Industry Association.
Outside of oil and gas extraction, mining activities accounted for $61 billion or 0.3 percent of GDP. All told, that industry including support services brought in $260 billion in economic activity in 2016, 1.4 percent of the overall GDP and 0.8 percentage points less than outdoor recreation.
For its part, Big Oil demurs on the way the data is presented by the Bureau of Economic Analysis, saying it fails to incorporate all the economic impacts of the oil and gas industry.
The American Petroleum Institute says the bureau measures only direct jobs in the oil and gas extraction industry, but also looking at secondary impacts gives a broader picture of the industry’s contribution to the economy.
“The recent Pricewaterhouse Cooper numbers include all segments of the industry and calculate indirect and induced impacts as well,” an API representative told Courthouse News in an email. “That’s why we say ‘10.3 million U.S. jobs supported’ and ‘We support nearly 8 percent of U.S. GDP.'”
It’s worth noting outdoor industry also inflates its numbers beyond what the bureau tracks, saying it accounts for $887 billion in consumer spending while supporting 7.6 million jobs.
The bureau’s data comes after Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke reportedly told a room full of oil and gas industry lobbyists in Louisiana that the government’s role is to work on behalf of the industry, according to a tweet sent out by the Louisiana Oil and Gas Industry.
Following the keynote speech – which reporters were not allowed to attend – Zinke clarified his remarks.
“We have to make sure that industry is held accountable – that regulation is appropriate. Government should not be adversarial. It needs to work with people all the way down to the community level,” Zinke said.
But several environmental groups seized on the comments as yet another example that Zinke and the rest of the Trump administration put the profits of oil and gas executives over environmental integrity and a recreation-oriented approach to public lands.
“Zinke is relentlessly assaulting our public lands, oceans, and wildlife, all to help line the pockets of his industry pals – all while likening himself to ‘the conservation president’ Teddy Roosevelt,” the Natural Resources Defense Council said in a statement released Wednesday.
The National Parks Conservation Association also criticized Zinke’s decision to open up six leases this fall and winter near national parks.
Lease sales include parcels next to or near Carlsbad Caverns National Park, Petrified Forest National Park, Canyonlands National Park, Fossil Butte National Monument, Chaco Culture National Historical Park, and Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve.
“These lease sales are being offered without the required environmental review and opportunities for public input that for decades have allowed citizens to have a voice in how their public lands are managed,” the association said on its website.
Zinke has made no bones about his desire to follow the dictates of President Donald Trump and use federal lands as part of the administration’s America First Energy Plan. He recently appeared on Fox News to tout the $1 billion generated from an oil and gas lease administered by the Bureau of Land Management in New Mexico.
“I had said we would be the number one oil and gas producer in the world by the third and fourth quarter – we made it last week,” Zinke said during the appearance. “The United States is the largest producer of oil and gas in the world.”
For environmentalists and those worried about the continued impacts of climate change, the news was less welcome. And as more economic data surfaces about the importance of public lands in the outdoor recreation economic portfolio, critics can talk about the economic damage extraction industries inflict on a sector responsible for a greater share of the GDP.
“This report shows that outdoor recreation is an economic powerhouse – and underscores the need to continue investing in measures that preserve our environment and access to public lands,” said U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen, D-New Hampshire.