As the Biden administration conducts a review of the U.S. government's federal fossil fuels program, a diverse collection of hundreds of organizations is urging the Interior Department to ensure the assessment is science-driven in order to help "secure a thriving, climate resilient future."
"We encourage Interior to undertake this review in light of a scientific truth: full exploitation of the world's already operating oil and gas fields would push global warming well past 1.5 degrees Celsius. Put simply, any new fossil fuel development, including federal fossil fuel leasing and permitting, is incompatible with the Paris Climate Agreement's scientific warming thresholds—thresholds designed to preserve a livable planet," the groups wrote to Interior Secretary Deb Haaland.
Their letter (pdf) is dated Wednesday and was drafted by Western Environmental Law Center, the Center for Biological Diversity, WildEarth Guardians, and Sierra Club. It's is backed by roughly 200 groups including Businesses for a Livable Climate, Endangered Species Coalition, and Indigenous Environmental Network.
The letter follows President Joe Biden's order pausing new oil and gas leases on federal lands and waters pending a review of the program. An initial analysis with recommendations for the program is expected be released this summer.
Taylor McKinnon, a senior campaigner at the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement Wednesday, "Runaway pollution from the federal fossil fuel programs has been worsening climate chaos for decades."
She called for the administration to undertake a "comprehensive review" that includes frontline communities. "This will inevitably show the need for a ban on new leasing," said McKinnon, "and a just, orderly decline of oil and gas extraction on public lands and waters."
In addition to following science, the program review must "openly consider the climate and equity consequences of all reasonable alternatives" like shutting down to all federal fossil fuel leasing, the groups told Haaland.
A handful of recommendations are detailed in the letter, including that the Interior Department conduct a comprehensive review under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) to determine if greenhouse gas emissions from the federal fossil fuel program align with the administration's climate goal of a 1.5 degree Celsius threshold of warming, a reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by at least 50 percent by 2030, and to near zero by 2040.
Carbon budgeting should be one tool used in the review, which should also take into consideration not just the amount of greenhouse gas emissions but also the social costs like property damage from extreme weather events and adverse agricultural impacts, the groups wrote. Further consideration must be given to whether the program would allow for the protection of 30% of federal lands and waters and support environmental justice.
The groups say the review must also asses the federal fossil fuel program's climate impacts beyond the nation's borders, and look at alternatives to how the federal program can align with the 1.5 degrees Celsius goal by transitioning away from production, use, and export of fossil fuels.
"Together our groups represent millions of people across the country all urging the Biden administration to put the health and safety of our communities and our climate before oil and gas profits," said Nicole Ghio, senior fossil fuels program manager at Friends of the Earth, in a statement.
"The Department of the Interior must meaningfully engage with the public and start managing our lands and waters for the public good instead of selling out future generations to prop up the fossil fuel industry," she said.
"This starts," said Ghio, "with permanently halting new leases on public lands and waters."
Eric Huber, managing attorney for Sierra Club's Environmental Law Program, concurred.
"The writing on the wall is clear. The long-term health of our communities, economies, and our climate requires phasing out fossil fuel leasing on public lands," he said.
"We cannot afford to close our eyes to the dangers of inaction," Huber said, urging "bold action now to halt new leasing and to diversify economies in ways that allow everyone to benefit."
The groups' letter came the same day Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and Rep. Jared Huffman (D-Calif.) reintroduced the Keep It in the Ground Act, which would stop new less for coal, oil, gas, oil shale, and tar sands extraction on public lands and in public waters.
"Our public lands and waters belong to all of us—not to fossil fuel executives who want to exploit our health and our kids' future to get rich," declared Merkley. "It’s time to keep citizen-owned fossil fuels in the ground where they can't inflict further harm on all of us."