Historic Petition Calls on Obama Administration to Immediately Halt All New Fossil Fuel Leases on Federal Lands

For Immediate Release

Historic Petition Calls on Obama Administration to Immediately Halt All New Fossil Fuel Leases on Federal Lands

264 Groups Join Call to Align Federal Energy Policies With U.S. Climate Goals

WASHINGTON - More than 250 climate, community and tribal organizations filed a landmark legal petition today calling on the Obama administration to halt all new fossil fuel leasing on federal lands — a step that would align U.S. energy policies with its climate goals and keep up to 450 billion tons of greenhouse gas pollution from entering the atmosphere.

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The petition, filed under the federal Administrative Procedures Act, calls on Interior Secretary Sally Jewell to place an immediate moratorium on new leases for federally managed, publicly owned oil, gas, tar sands and oil shale. The moratorium would remain until and unless it can be demonstrated that resumption of fossil fuel mining on public lands is consistent with meeting the U.S. goal of holding global warming “well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels” and pursuing efforts to “limit the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels,” as agreed to by the United States and 194 other countries in the 2015 Paris Agreement. 

“The clock is ticking on the climate crisis, and one of the most powerful steps the Obama administration can take right now is turn off the carbon pollution spigot on America’s public lands,” said Michael Saul, a Center for Biological Diversity attorney and primary author of the petition. “A moratorium on federal leasing is critical to ensure the United States does its part to meet the global climate commitments we made last year in Paris.”

Led by the Center, the petition follows on the heels of a new analysis that finds that already leased federal fossil fuels will last far beyond the point the world will exceed the carbon pollution limits set out in the Paris Agreement. Crude oil under lease will produce through 2055, 34 years past the 1.5 degree Celsius warming threshold; gas under federal lease will produce through 2044, 23 years beyond the 1.5 degree Celsius threshold; and coal under federal lease will produce 25 years through 2041, 20 years past the 1.5 degree Celsius warming threshold. 

The Department of the Interior has the statutory authority under the Mineral Leasing Act to determine if and when to lease federal lands for fossil fuel extraction. Given that fuels already under lease exceed any sustainable climate targets, the secretary can and should exercise that authority to halt new leasing, according to today’s petition.  

The findings support the growing call to President Obama by hundreds of organizations to immediately halt new federal fossil fuel leasing — a step that will keep up to 450 billion tons of potential greenhouse gas pollution in the ground (EcoShift 2015) and prevent 100 million tons in annual emissions through 2030 (SEI 2016).

Download the petition.

Statements From Petition Signatories

“If there's any chance of preventing the worst impacts of climate change, we must keep coal, oil and gas in the ground,” said May Boeve, executive director of 350.org. “But we can't do that if the Obama administration continues to sell that ground to the highest bidding fossil fuel companies. Now President Obama has a choice to make: expand oil and gas drilling indefinitely, or join us in doing what’s best for communities and the climate.”

“These lands are meant to benefit the public as a whole. Instead, they are being used to enrich fossil fuel companies while devastating our shared natural resources and putting communities around the world at risk,” said Marc Yaggi, executive director of Waterkeeper Alliance. “We must end federal fossil fuel leasing now to ensure our resiliency against climate change.”

“This is a health issue as much as it is an environmental issue,” said Barbara Gottlieb, director for environment and health at Physicians for Social Responsibility. “Our use of fossil fuels is driving climate change and accelerating the heat waves, extreme storms, spread of insect-borne diseases, and other health effects associated with an overheated planet. A moratorium on fossil fuel leases on public lands is a smart step to slow the damage and lessen the dangers to health.”

“Fossil fuel companies have already made millions off public land leases while wrecking the environment. We know that continuing the leasing program will create catastrophic climate change. It’s time for President Obama to follow through on the climate commitment he made in Paris, end the corporate giveaway, and halt all new leases on public lands,” said Amanda Starbuck, climate and energy program director at Rainforest Action Network.

“Florida is on the front lines of climate change. As sea levels rise, our coastal freshwater ecosystems are being lost and our underground aquifers are being inundated with salt water. Florida reefs have suffered unprecedented bleaching due to higher temperatures — even as increased ocean acidity makes ocean chemistry incompatible with corals and other marine life,” said Matthew Schwartz, executive director of South Florida Wildlands Association. “We must do all we that we can to reverse this alarming trend. This moratorium is an excellent step in the right direction.”

“On the heels of yet another hottest-month-on-record for the U.S., it's clear that climate change is already here. The question is how much worse will it get. We simply can't continue to drill, mine and burn more fossil fuels while global warming passes the point of no return. By ending new leasing on federal lands, President Obama can start us on the path to a just transition away from fossil fuels and toward a 100 percent clean, renewable energy future,” said Rachel Richardson, director of the Stop Drilling Program for Environment America.

“The world's mainstream medical organizations are acknowledging that the climate crisis is the greatest public health threat of our time. The health and well-being of billions of people will be put at risk if we do not act quickly and decisively to end our world wide fossil fuel dependency. For the United States to do its share, and maintain its leadership role with other nations, we cannot continue to open up federal lands for dirty energy leasing,” said Dr. Brian Moench, president of Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment.

“We work to create resilient communities here in Texas and climate change is a top concern. We must transition away from fossil fuels that are destroying our communities. Ending new federal fossil fuel leasing would be a big step to averting dangerous climate change," said Kathy Redmond, Organizer Resilient Nacogdoches, Texas. 

“Halting fossil fuel leases on federal lands is a necessary step to move the country, and Nevada, toward a clean energy solution to this climate crisis,” said Ellen Moore of the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada. “The Obama administration must listen to the thousands of people who have protested the leasing of public lands for oil and gas. Without the moratorium public lands in our state will continue to be auctioned off to the highest bidder, presenting immediate risks to the health of our communities and wildlife, and putting the future of the planet in peril.” 

“The science is clear — if we are to avoid the worst effects of climate change, we must keep dirty fuels in the ground,” said the director of Sierra Club’s Beyond Dirty Fuels campaign, Lena Moffitt. “The Obama administration was right to have placed a moratorium on coal leasing on our public lands, and it should expand that to cover all fossil fuel operations. Protecting our public lands and ensuring they remain open for future generations enjoyment is a clear and obvious place for this process to continue.” 

Background

The American public owns nearly 650 million acres of federal public land and more than 1.7 billion acres of Outer Continental Shelf — and the fossil fuels beneath them. This includes federal public land, which makes up about a third of the U.S. land area, and ocean areas such as Alaska’s Chukchi Sea, the Gulf of Mexico and the Eastern Seaboard. These places and the fossil fuels beneath them are held in trust for the public by the federal government; federal fossil fuel leasing is administered by the Department of the Interior.

Over the past decade, the combustion of federal fossil fuels has resulted in nearly a quarter of all U.S. energy-related emissions. An 2015 report by EcoShift Consulting, commissioned by the Center and Friends of the Earth, found that remaining federal oil, gas, coal, oil shale and tar sands that have not been leased to industry contain up to 450 billion tons of potential greenhouse gas pollution. As of earlier this year, 67 million acres of federal fossil fuel were already leased to industry — an area more than 55 times larger than Grand Canyon National Park containing up to 43 billion tons of potential greenhouse gas pollution.

Download the September “Keep It in the Ground” letter to President Obama.

Download Grounded: The President’s Power to Fight Climate Change, Protect Public Lands by Keeping Publicly Owned Fossil Fuels in the Ground (this report details the legal authorities with which a president can halt new federal fossil fuel leases).

Download The Potential Greenhouse Gas Emissions of U.S. Federal Fossil Fuels (this report quantifies the volume and potential greenhouse gas emissions of remaining federal fossil fuels) and The Potential Greenhouse Gas Emissions fact sheet.

Download Public Lands, Private Profits (this report details the corporations profiting from climate-destroying fossil fuel extraction on public lands).

Download the Center for Biological Diversity’s formal petition calling on the Obama administration to halt all new offshore fossil fuel leasing.

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At the Center for Biological Diversity, we believe that the welfare of human beings is deeply linked to nature - to the existence in our world of a vast diversity of wild animals and plants. Because diversity has intrinsic value, and because its loss impoverishes society, we work to secure a future for all species, great and small, hovering on the brink of extinction. We do so through science, law, and creative media, with a focus on protecting the lands, waters, and climate that species need to survive.

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