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Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, center, and Sen. Jeff Merkley (l) announce new climate legislation, Nov. 4, 2015, during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington. (Photo: AP)

Introducing 'Keep It in the Ground' Bill, Sanders Goes Big on Climate

Proposed legislation by presidential candidate and Senate colleagues—which would keep majority of fossil fuels on public lands and offshore areas from being exploited—described as 'historic'

Sarah Lazare, staff writer

A handful of Democratic Senators, along with 2016 presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders, on Wednesday unrolled a bill that would go far beyond anything the administration of President Barack Obama has proposed by prohibiting all new coal, oil, and gas drilling on federally-owned lands and waters—from the Gulf of Mexico to the Arctic circle.

The Keep It in the Ground Act was introduced by Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), and Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.). The bill was cosponsored by Sens. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.).

Specifically, the proposed legislation would block corporations from pursuing new and non-producing leases for coal, oil, gas, shale, and tar sands extraction on federal land. In addition, it would ban offshore drilling in the Arctic and Atlantic Oceans and halt new and non-producing leases in the Pacific and Gulf of Mexico.

"We are taking on the Koch brothers and some of the most powerful political forces in the world who are more concerned with short-term profits than the future of the planet," said Sanders in a statement accompanying the bill. "I’ve got four kids, and I’ve got seven beautiful grandchildren. We have a moral responsibility to leave our kids a planet that is healthy and inhabitable."

The introduction of the bill follows an appeal issued in September by over 400 climate organizations and environmental leaders—including Asian Pacific Environmental Network and Indigenous People's Power Project—calling on Obama to halt new leasing on public lands and oceans, and insisting this is the single greatest thing he could do as president to curb the climate crisis. 

"Over the past decade, the burning of fossil fuels from federal leasing has resulted in nearly a quarter of all U.S. energy-related emissions and nearly 4 percent of  global emissions," the letter stated.

In a study published in the journal Nature earlier this year, scientists concluded that, in order to stave off climate disaster, the vast majority of fossil fuel deposits around the world—including 92 percent of U.S. coal, all Arctic oil and gas, and a majority of Canadian tar sands—must stay "in the ground."

Bill Snape, senior counsel to the Center for Biological Diversity, told Common Dreams that—because of this stark warning—Wednesday's legislation is "historic."

"Obviously Obama's Clean Power Plan is not enough, and not even close if it is by itself," Snape emphasized. "All of the technical standards, all of the state cooperation, it matters for nothing if we do not keep the vast majority of fossil fuels in the ground."


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