Climate, Indigenous and conservation groups today called on the Biden administration to halt new drilling permits and to cancel unlawful Trump-era oil and gas leases on public lands. The letter urges the Interior Department to enact a range of interim actions to protect the climate, public lands, oceans and communities pending completion of the department’s climate review of federal fossil fuel programs.
“To show climate leadership and reduce emissions, the U.S. must act now where we have the ability to do so,” the letter says. “Given the Secretary of Interior’s authority over the federal fossil fuel estate, this is the place to start.”
Today’s letter cites the new International Energy Agency report showing that, even with reliance on controversial biofuels and unproven carbon capture technologies, new approvals of fossil fuel projects are incompatible with limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. It calls for emergency bonding, halting federal coal leasing and postponing decisions on resource management plans until the administration’s climate review is finished.
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.
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 April more than 200 groups filed formal comments with the administration calling for a formal climate review of the federal fossil fuel programs under the National Environmental Policy Act.
In June the Interior Department plans to issue an interim report regarding its comprehensive review, including findings from a March online forum and public comments solicited through April 15.
Today’s letter, authored by Western Environmental Law Center, the Center for Biological Diversity, WildEarth Guardians and Sierra Club, was signed by Diné Citizens Against Ruining Our Environment, Citizens for a Healthy Community, Earthworks, Friends of the Earth, Waterkeeper Alliance, San Juan Collaborative for Health Equity, Physicians for Social Responsibility and Western Watersheds Project. Many of the groups’ members live on the front lines of fossil fuel pollution and in communities harmed by climate change.
“We’re grateful for President Biden’s climate leadership and the commitments that his administration has made,” said Erik Schlenker-Goodrich, executive director of the Western Environmental Law Center. “The sensible recommendations we’ve provided to the administration today are intended to maximize opportunities for the administration to align the federal fossil fuels programs with the urgency compelled by the climate crisis.”
“We are happy there is a pause on federal fossil fuels leasing, but we need to do more now. The damage is all too evident for communities in the four corners region,” said Carol David, director of Diné Citizens Against Ruining Our Environment. “Local farmers and traditional practitioners have spoken to us about a heat shield that for years has prohibited regular rainfall in the Shiprock, NM area. We have seen plants struggling to survive and an absence of life in the simplest form —lizards, snakes, ants. The climate has visibly degraded for people who have lived in the shadow of two power plants. We need to do more by reining in our dependence on oil, gas and coal.”
“The climate emergency demands bold leadership from the Biden administration,” said Taylor McKinnon, a senior campaigner at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The leasing pause and climate review are good first steps, but much more is needed to curb damage from the runaway drilling and fracking that are undermining U.S. climate goals.”
“The Western United States is hotter and drier than ever and in severe or extreme prolonged drought,” said Natasha Léger, executive director, Citizens for a Healthy Community. “Parts of Colorado and Utah have already warmed more than 1.5 degrees Celsius. It’s harming people, communities, and our food supply with water scarcity, wildfires and chaotic weather. The Biden administration needs to stop the federal government’s complicity in climate degradation by ending new oil and gas leasing and permitting on federal lands.”
“The vanishing waters of the West have already been put at grave risk by the fracking extraction and climate-driven impacts of oil and gas development on our public lands,” said Kate Hudson, western U.S. advocacy coordinator for Waterkeeper Alliance. “We urge the secretary to protect this precious and diminishing resource by withdrawing all lands in close proximity to permanent, seasonal, and intermittent surface waters and wetlands from availability for leasing while DOI conducts its much needed comprehensive programmatic review.”
“The climate emergency does not allow for half measures,” said Raena Garcia, fossil fuels and lands campaigner with Friends of the Earth. “Biden must uphold his promise to address the nearly 25% of U.S. emissions that come from the extraction and burning of fossil fuels from our public lands and waters. Halting all new drilling, including permitting and issuing leases from Trump’s 11th-hour public lands fire sale is a critical step in making good on that promise.”
“It’s critical that President Biden follow through with his promise of bold climate action and just transition from fossil fuels,” said Jeremy Nichols, climate and energy program director for WildEarth Guardians. “We need a pause on selling public lands for fracking, but we need to build on this pause and take further action to rein in fossil fuel production and keep our oil, gas, and coal in the ground.”
“The First Law of Holes is, ‘When you’re in one, stop digging,’” said Erik Molvar of Western Watersheds Project. “The Biden administration is off to a good start with its goal-setting to help us climb out of the Climate Crisis, and the new focus should be to stop supplying the nation’s addiction to fossil fuels from our federal lands and minerals, and to end the Biodiversity Crisis by prioritizing public lands for habitat protections.”
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 the 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.