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Indigenous demonstrators protest outside the Department of the Interior

A demonstrator is suspended from a tripod structure in front of the Interior Department in Washington, D.C. on August 1, 2022. (Photo: About Face: Veterans Against the War/Twitter)

Indigenous-Led Blockade Demands Biden Declare Climate Emergency, End Oil Leasing

"Native land back in native hands, we are not your sacrifice zones!"

Jake Johnson

An Indigenous-led blockade outside the U.S. Department of Interior early Monday morning called on President Joe Biden to declare a climate emergency and halt all new fossil fuel projects, a demand that came as the White House and Senate Democrats are pushing legislation that could unleash a flurry of drilling activity on public lands and waters.

"Native land back in native hands, we are not your sacrifice zones!" declared the Ikiya Collective, which helped organize the direct action.

Demonstrators painted "Climate Emergency" in large red letters in the street in front of the Interior Department and one protester was suspended from a tripod structure set up in the road.

Addressing the president directly, the collective wrote on social media, "Declare a climate emergency and stop approving all fossil fuel projects, including leases, exports, plastic plants, and pipelines."

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has made clear that new fossil fuel extraction projects and other dirty energy infrastructure projects are incompatible with global efforts to rein in carbon emissions, which are driving increasingly devastating extreme weather around the world and inflicting deep harm on Indigenous communities, poor people, and other vulnerable populations.

Nevertheless, the Biden Interior Department—headed by Deb Haaland, the first Indigenous person to lead the agency—has signaled that it is willing to approve new oil and gas drilling in federal waters off the coast of Alaska and in the Gulf of Mexico despite the president's campaign vow to ban all "new oil and gas permitting on public lands and waters."

The so-called Inflation Reduction Act of 2022, a Biden-endorsed bill that Senate Democrats are aiming to pass as soon as this week, would require oil and gas lease sales as a prerequisite for solar and wind development—a provision that Big Oil has hailed as a significant victory.

Biden is reportedly considering declaring a climate emergency, but it's unclear whether he will do so now that Senate Democrats have agreed on legislation that would make historic renewable energy investments, even as it paves the way for more drilling.

Tom BK Goldtooth, executive director of the Indigenous Environmental Network warned in a statement last week that the Democratic legislation—crafted in large part by fossil fuel industry ally Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.)—"exacerbates a pathway of climate and environmental injustice to Indigenous, Black, and people of color communities."

"This act is more of the same climate false solutions we have seen previously from this administration," Goldtooth added. "But it goes further with a quid pro quo guaranteeing offshore oil leases in exchange for renewable energy... The act does not provide climate nor energy security and will not cut emissions at source at the level that is needed to address this climate emergency."

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