Public Records Sought Over Federal Surveillance of Climate Protesters

For Immediate Release

Public Records Sought Over Federal Surveillance of Climate Protesters

WASHINGTON - The Center for Biological Diversity today filed nine Freedom of Information Act requests seeking the release of public records relating to surveillance of peaceful protests of federal fossil fuel auctions. Records obtained by the Intercept in July revealed that federal and local police agents went undercover at a May 20 public protest of a Bureau of Land Management fossil fuel auction in Lakewood, Colo. 

Today’s filings expand that inquiry to all federal fossil fuel auctions conducted by the Bureau of Land Management and Bureau of Ocean and Energy Management since August 2015, including 14 fossil fuel auctions that faced public “Keep it in the Ground” protests. The requests seek all internal federal correspondence related to the protests as well as communication with other agencies, including local, state, and federal law enforcement, industry, and private consultants.

“There’s a large and growing movement of peaceful protesters calling on their government to make a moral choice to save our climate and end new fossil fuel leasing on public lands,” said Taylor McKinnon with the Center. “The public has a right to know whether the government has launched a surveillance program targeting climate activists who are courageously speaking up for what’s right.”

Every oil and gas lease sale on public lands since September 2015 has faced climate protests as part of  the “Keep it in the Ground” movement that is calling on President Obama to end all new fossil fuel leasing on public lands. Those protests have halted several BLM fossil fuel auctions, and spurred BLM and BOEM to begin conducting fossil fuel auctions online to avoid public controversy.

“Neither undercover surveillance nor moving fossil fuel auctions online will hide the dangerous disconnect between the Obama administration’s climate rhetoric and its fossil fuel leasing policies,” McKinnon said. “Until those policies align with U.S. climate goals, they’ll continue to face growing public protest — and rightfully so.”

Download a copy of today’s request here.

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 oceans like 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 for Biological Diversity 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.

Last year Sens. Merkley (D-Ore.), Sanders (I-Vt.) and others introduced the Keep It In the Ground Act (S. 2238) legislation to end new federal fossil fuel leases and cancel non-producing federal fossil fuel leases. Days later President Obama canceled the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, saying, “Because ultimately, if we’re going to prevent large parts of this Earth from becoming not only inhospitable but uninhabitable in our lifetimes, we’re going to have to keep some fossil fuels in the ground rather than burn them and release more dangerous pollution into the sky.”

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 Over-leased: How Production Horizons of Already Leased Federal Fossil Fuels Outlast Global Carbon Budgets.

Download Public Lands, Private Profits, a report about the corporations that are profiting from climate-destroying fossil fuel extraction on public lands.

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

Download the Center for Biological Diversity’s legal petition with 264 other groups calling on the Obama administration to halt all new onshore 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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