WASHINGTON— Hundreds of climate, Native American, religious, business and conservation organizations, ACFAN among them, today called on the Biden administration to do a comprehensive environmental review under the National Environmental Policy Act and other laws to align federal fossil fuel programs with U.S. climate goals to curb global warming.
The letter asks the Interior Department to evaluate a legal finding of climate harm from fossil fuel expansion. It describes how the administration can use existing laws to end new fossil fuel leasing onshore and offshore and manage a just, orderly decline of production consistent with its goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.
The letter also calls for the fair and meaningful involvement of communities vulnerable to climate change, affected by or dependent upon the federal fossil fuel program.
In February the Biden administration issued an executive order pausing oil and gas leasing onshore and offshore pending a climate review of federal fossil fuel programs. In June the Interior Department will issue an interim report describing findings from a March online forum and public comments being solicited through April 15.
In January, 574 conservation, Native American, religious and business groups sent the then president-elect text for a proposed executive order to ban new fossil fuel leasing and permitting on federal public lands and waters.
Today’s letter, authored by Western Environmental Law Center, the Center for Biological Diversity, WildEarth Guardians and Sierra Club, was signed by organizations from across the United States, many with members who live on the front lines of fossil fuel pollution and in communities harmed by climate change.
Quotes From Organizations
“The comprehensive review of the federal fossil fuels programs is a long-needed step in the right direction,” said Erik Schlenker-Goodrich, executive director of the Taos, N.M.-based Western Environmental Law Center. “Done right and coupled with investments in workers and frontline communities, it can spark a long-needed transition away from fossil fuels and toward a just, equitable and climate-resilient economy where public lands serve as a cornerstone of climate resilience and conservation, not exploitation.”
“Runaway pollution from the federal fossil fuel programs has been worsening climate chaos for decades,” said Taylor McKinnon, a senior campaigner at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The Biden administration must do a comprehensive review and make frontline communities a part of this process. This will inevitably show the need for a ban on new leasing and a just, orderly decline of oil and gas extraction on public lands and waters.”
“The climate crisis requires immediate action. The BLM must put a halt to all new leasing of public lands if there is any chance of avoiding the most severe impacts of a changing climate,” said Landon Newell, a staff attorney with the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. “For far too long the BLM has wrongly elevated oil and gas leasing and development as the primary use of our nation’s public lands, threatening our climate, wildlife, cultural treasures and wild places. This unbalanced approach must stop now.”
“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,” said Eric Huber, managing attorney for Sierra Club’s Environmental Law Program.
“We cannot afford to close our eyes to the dangers of inaction; we need bold action now to halt new leasing and to diversify economies in ways that allow everyone to benefit.”
“It’s time to put public lands and waters to work for our climate and justice, not for fossil fuels,” said Jeremy Nichols, climate and energy program director at WildEarth Guardians. “We’re counting on President Biden and Interior Secretary Deb Haaland to boldly reform federal oil and gas management to ensure we keep fossil fuels in the ground and our nation on track for climate progress.”
“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. “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. This starts with permanently halting new leases on public lands and waters.”
“As mothers and grandmothers, we want to know that future generations have clean air, clean water and a climate-resilient economy,” said Shelley Silbert, executive director of Great Old Broads for Wilderness. “Our best use of public lands is to ensure the safety and health of America’s communities and our land, water and wildlife. The fossil fuel industry has for too long put profit above all else. The leasing pause is a valuable way to review impacts and align priorities toward a livable future.”
“Winding down federal oil and gas leasing and permitting programs is critical to saving the West,” said Natasha Léger, executive director of Citizens for a Healthy Community. “The largest climate hotspot in the U.S. is over the 15 water-producing counties for seven states in the West and Mexico, where we’re experiencing extreme drought. We cannot expect to adapt our way out of the climate, ecological and health crises exacerbated by oil and gas extraction.”
Fossil fuel production on public lands causes about a quarter of U.S. greenhouse gas pollution. Peer-reviewed science estimates that a nationwide federal fossil fuel leasing ban would reduce carbon emissions by 280 million tons per year, ranking it among the most ambitious federal climate-policy proposals in recent years.
Oil, gas and coal extraction uses mines, well pads, gas lines, roads and other infrastructure that destroys habitat for wildlife, including threatened and endangered species. Oil spills and other harms from offshore drilling have done immense damage to ocean wildlife and coastal communities. Fracking and mining also pollute watersheds and waterways that provide drinking water to millions of people.
Federal fossil fuels that have not been leased to industry contain up to 450 billion tons of potential climate pollution; those already leased to industry contain up to 43 billion tons. Pollution from the world’s already producing oil and gas fields, if fully developed, would push global warming well past 1.5 degrees Celsius.