Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

Lakewood Colorado BLM fossil fuel auction protest May 2016

Peter Buhay organizes protestors in Lakewood, Colorado for #Keepitintheground on May 12, 2016. (Photo: Olivia Abtahi/Survival Media Agency)

FOIA Request Probes Extent of Government Spying on Climate Protesters

The Intercept revealed last month that federal agents went undercover at a fossil fuel auction protest

Deirdre Fulton

Citing an investigation that revealed federal agents went undercover to spy on environmental activists, the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) on Thursday filed nine Freedom of Information Act requests seeking information on surveillance of peaceful protests at federal fossil fuel auctions.

As they wrote at The Intercept in July, journalists Lee Fang and Steve Horn obtained emails showing that in May, local law enforcement and federal agents monitored and infiltrated a "Keep it in the Ground" protest at a Bureau of Land Management (BLM) auction in Lakewood, Colorado. 

"The emails, which were obtained through an open records act request, show that the Lakewood Police Department collected details about the protest from undercover officers as the event was being planned," they wrote. "During the auction, both local law enforcement and federal agents went undercover among the protesters."

What's more, The Intercept reported:

The emails further show that police monitored Keep it in the Ground participating groups such as 350.org, Break Free Movement, Rainforest Action Network, and WildEarth Guardians, while relying upon intelligence gathered by Anadarko, one of the largest oil and gas producers in the region.

Now, CBD wants to know not only what happened at the Lakewood protest, but whether similar surveillance strategies have been pursued at other fossil fuel auction protests. 

"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," a CBD press statement reads, noting that such protests "have halted several BLM fossil fuel auctions, and spurred BLM and [Bureau of Ocean Energy Management] to begin conducting fossil fuel auctions online to avoid public controversy."

In turn, Thursday's filings (pdf) apply to all federal fossil fuel auctions conducted by BLM and BOEM since August 2015, including 14 fossil fuel auctions that faced public "Keep it in the Ground" protests.

"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 of CBD. "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."

In the end, McKinnon said, "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. Until those policies align with U.S. climate goals, they'll continue to face growing public protest—and rightfully so."

Law enforcement surveillance and shifty procedural moves aren't the only threats facing climate activists. DeSmog Blog recently reported on how environmentalists like Bill McKibben and Tom Steyer "are being stalked by a team of GOP-trained camera operators."

Still, as McKibben wrote in a New York Times op-ed this weekend addressing such claims: "The fossil-fuel industry may threaten us as a planet, as a nation, and as individuals, but when we rise up together we've got a fighting chance against the powers that be."

"And perhaps," he said, "that realization is just a little bit scary for them."


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

We've had enough. The 1% own and operate the corporate media. They are doing everything they can to defend the status quo, squash dissent and protect the wealthy and the powerful. The Common Dreams media model is different. We cover the news that matters to the 99%. Our mission? To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. How? Nonprofit. Independent. Reader-supported. Free to read. Free to republish. Free to share. With no advertising. No paywalls. No selling of your data. Thousands of small donations fund our newsroom and allow us to continue publishing. Can you chip in? We can't do it without you. Thank you.

Germany Arrests 25 Over Alleged Far-Right Plot to Violently Overthrow Government

Prosecutors said supporters of the group—who reportedly include a descendant of royalty, a judge, and a Russian citizen—believe Germany is ruled by a so-called "deep state" that should be overthrown "through the use of military means and violence."

Jessica Corbett ·


'Monumental Victory': Manchin's Industry-Backed Permitting Reform Defeated Again

"We've defeated Manchin's dirty deal twice so far, and we'll do it as many times as we must until communities and the climate are safe from rampant oil and gas expansion."

Jon Queally ·


Warnock Defeats Walker in Georgia, Giving Democrats 51-49 Senate Majority

"Tonight, the people—young, Black, Brown, and working people—expanded the Senate majority, neutralized the power of Joe Manchin, and defeated yet another fascist," the Sunrise Movement cheered.

Brett Wilkins ·


'About Damn Time': NY Jury Finds Trump Organization Guilty on All Counts of Tax Fraud

"Today's guilty verdict against the Trump Organization shows that we will hold individuals and organizations accountable when they violate our laws to line their pockets," said New York Attorney General Letitia James.

Brett Wilkins ·


Oxfam Rebukes EU Over Delayed Deal on Global Minimum Corporate Tax

"This is a loss to ordinary people who are struggling with the cost-of-living crisis and a win to the ultra-profitable corporations," said the group's tax expert for the bloc.

Jessica Corbett ·

Common Dreams Logo