In a move being hailed as both "defiant" and common sense, Democratic lawmakers in the U.S. House on Thursday introduced the "Keep It in the Ground" Act, which would permanently block all new fossil fuel leases on public lands and waters.
The bill, introduced by California Rep. Jared Huffman and cosponsored by 16 colleagues, specifically bars new leases and ends non-producing leases for coal, oil, gas, oil shale, and tar sands on all federal lands, as well as for offshore drilling in the Pacific and Gulf of Mexico. Further, the bill outright prohibits offshore drilling in the Arctic and the Atlantic.
"Keeping unleased fossil fuels in the ground on public lands and waters is the first step towards avoiding the worst impacts of climate disruption and safeguarding our natural heritage," said Marissa Knodel, climate campaigner for Friends of the Earth.
"The Keep It in the Ground Act sets the bar for what the U.S. can and should achieve in the global fight to prevent climate catastrophe and to protect our public lands and waters," Knodel continued. "It also serves notice to fossil fuel empires that climate, justice, and health advocates will end their reign of destruction."
Coming just two days after the conservative-dominated U.S. Supreme Court blocked implementation of the White House's sweeping plan to lower greenhouse gas emissions, the move is being described as "a timely act of Democratic defiance." It follows similar legislation introduced in the U.S. Senate last November, which was spearheaded by presidential contender Sen. Bernie Sanders.
"Anyone who does the math of climate change knows we need to keep most fossil fuel underground," said Bill McKibben, co-founder of the climate action group 350.org.
"Public lands—as multiple presidential candidates have pointed out—are the logical place to start," McKibben added, "and this is even more obvious in the wake of the Supreme Court stay on the president’s Clean Power Plan. In a record hot world, let’s hope Congress acts on this at record speed; we will do all we can to make it happen."
Environmental campaigners have repeatedly called on the federal government to stop fossil fuel leases on public lands. In September, more than 400 climate organizations sent a letter to President Obama insisting that this is the single greatest thing he could do as president to curb the climate crisis.