Hundreds of groups filed what they called a "historic" petition to President Barack Obama on Tuesday, urging the administration to end all fossil fuel leases on federal lands.
More than 250 climate, community, and tribal organizations filed the legal petition to remind Obama of the commitments the U.S. made by signing the landmark Paris agreement calling on nations worldwide to keep global warming below 1.5°C.
"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, which signed the petition. "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."
Michael Saul, a primary author of the appeal and an attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD), which spearheaded the action, warned that 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."
Just last week, CBD released a report which found that public lands already under fossil fuel leases will be producing coal, oil, and gas decades beyond the point at which scientists predict the world will surpass the 1.5°C threshold.
As Common Dreams wrote at the time: "This means that even without the additional fossil fuel leases still on the auction block, the U.S. is already on course to drastically renege on its climate promises."
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CBD noted on Tuesday that the Department of the Interior has the authority to choose when to issue extraction leases. The agency's secretary "can and should exercise that authority to halt new leasing," a statement from the group urges.
If that land is protected, it would keep up to 450 billion tons of potential greenhouse gas pollution in the ground, the signatories said.
"Put simply, there is only a finite amount of CO2 that can be released into the atmosphere without rendering the goal of meeting the 1.5°C (or even a 2°C) target virtually impossible," the petition (pdf) states. "Consequently, the vast majority of fossil fuels must remain in the ground."
Signatories ranged from environmental activist groups like the Waterkeeper Alliance and Rainforest Action Network to medical organizations like the Physicians for Social Responsibility and Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment, as well as frontline community groups like Resilient Nacogdoches, and the coalition Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada (PLAN).
"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," said Amanda Starbuck, climate and energy program director at the Rainforest Action Network. "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."