The Trump administration on Friday moved to open more than 725,000 acres of California's central coast to potential oil and gas drilling, a decision environmentalists condemned as a disastrous handout to big polluters at a time when urgent action is needed to slash greenhouse gas emissions.
The move, announced by the Interior Department's Bureau of Land Management (BLM), ends a five-year moratorium on leasing federal land in California to fossil fuel companies.
As Reuters reported, the BLM "has not held a lease sale in California since 2013, when a judge ruled that the agency illegally issued leases without analyzing the environmental impact of drilling called hydraulic fracturing, or fracking."
Clare Lakewood, senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, one of the groups that sued BLM to stop the lease sales, said the agency's "reckless move" on Friday represents "the toxic convergence of Trump's climate denial, loyalty to the oil industry, and grudge against California."
"Turning over these spectacular wild places to dirty drilling and fracking will sicken Californians, harm endangered species, and fuel climate chaos," said Lakewood. "We'll fight tooth and nail to make sure it doesn't happen."
The San Francisco Chronicle reported Friday that BLM's decision "gives an immediate go-ahead to 14 drilling leases in San Benito, Monterey, and Fresno counties, mostly projects near existing drill sites, projects that have been pursued for years by fossil fuel companies looking to expand."
"But the action also opens the door for new leases in eight other counties, raising the prospect of additional drilling in such spots as the Santa Cruz Mountains, the East Bay hills and eastern Santa Clara County," according to the Chronicle.
Jenny Binstock, campaign representative with Sierra Club, said in a statement that the Trump administration "is putting California's communities and our climate at risk as they prioritize fossil fuel industry profits over our public lands and the health and safety of our families."
"We will continue to use every tool at our disposal to push back against this irresponsible decision and to protect our public lands from fracking," Binstock added.