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Landmark Climate Bill Would End New Fossil Fuel Leases on Federal Lands

Politics

Senators Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Bernie Sanders (D-Vt.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) announced landmark climate legislation today to end new federal fossil fuel leasing on public lands and oceans, and cancel existing offshore federal oil and gas leases in the Arctic.

By ending new federal fossil fuel leases, the Keep Fossil Fuels in the Ground Act of 2015 would remove up to 450 billion tons from the global pool of potential greenhouse gas pollution—an amount vastly greater than any reasonable U.S. share of the global carbon budget to avoid 2 degrees Celsius degrees of warming.

“If we’re going to solve the global climate crisis, we have to keep fossil fuels in the ground, and this brave legislation puts us on the right path,” said Randi Spivak, public lands director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Developing our last publicly owned fossil fuels would cripple our ability to avert worst-case climate impacts.”

Federal fossil fuels of the U.S. Photo credit: Curt Bradley / Center for Biological Diversity.

If enacted, the legislation would sever the Obama administration’s “all of the above” energy policy, which, despite a worsening climate crisis, has continued to expand leasing of federal oil, gas and coal on public lands and oceans. In September, more than 400 groups and leaders called on the Obama administration to end its federal leasing program.

“U.S. climate policy must curb supply and demand,” said Spivak. “Regulating smokestacks and tailpipes isn’t enough; fossil fuels that are extracted will be burned. The natural place to start phasing out supply is on our public lands and oceans.”

Over the past decade, the combustion of federal fossil fuels has resulted in nearly a quarter of all U.S. energy-related emissions. In August, a report by EcoShift consulting, commissioned by the Center for Biological Diversity and Friends of the Earth, found that the remaining federal oil, gas, coal, oil shale and tar sands that have not yet been leased to industry contain up to 450 billion tons of potential greenhouse gas pollution.

As of earlier this year, 67 million acres federal fossil fuel were already leased to industry, an area more than 55 times larger than Grand Canyon National Park containing up to 43 billion tons of potential greenhouse gas pollution.

“The U.S. government has already leased decades’ worth of federal fossil fuels—more than ever can safely be burned,” said Spivak. “Each new lease walks us closer to climate catastrophe. This legislation would end that dangerous policy while protecting our natural heritage of public lands, oceans and biodiversity.”

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