Trump Plan Threatens 43 Million Tons of Climate Pollution Ahead of Biden’s Promised Leasing Ban
Citing harm to wildlife, clean air, and the climate, conservation groups filed a legal protest over the weekend challenging a Trump administration plan approving the sale of fracking leases on 275,000 acres of public lands in Wyoming. Fracking those leases would destroy habitat for greater sage-grouse, worsen air quality and cause up to 43 million tons of climate pollution — as much as a coal-fired power plant emits in 11 years.
The online auction, which will offer 118,219 of the 275,000 approved acres, is scheduled Dec. 15-17. President-elect Biden has pledged to ban new oil and gas leasing on federal public lands and waters when he takes office Jan. 20.
“Each ounce of climate pollution lends urgency to Biden’s plan to end fossil fuel leasing on public land and waters,” said Taylor McKinnon, a senior campaigner at the Center for Biological Diversity. “This Wyoming plan is a recipe for disaster. Our climate can’t afford one more acre of public land committed to fossil fuel development.”
The leases continue the Trump administration’s defiance of climate scientists’ call to cut greenhouse gas pollution by half in the coming decade. The Trump administration has offered more than 7 million acres of public lands in the lower 48 states for fracking leases, and 4 million acres have been sold. Lawsuits have so far invalidated the leases on about 60% of those 4 million acres.
“The unrestrained leasing of our public lands for oil and gas extraction not only jeopardizes local and regional water quality and quantity but also intensifies climate impacts across the Western United States,” said Kate Hudson, Western U.S. advocacy coordinator for Waterkeeper Alliance. “All communities — but especially our Native American nations — are increasingly threatened with a devastating combination of irreversible drought and catastrophic fire. We call on the Biden administration to abandon aggressive fossil fuel extraction from our public lands and equitably address the climate crisis before it is too late.”
The protest challenges the Bureau of Land Management’s failure to analyze harm from climate pollution and assess how volatile organic compounds and nitrogen oxides will worsen ozone pollution. Wyoming’s Upper Green River Basin already suffers pollution levels that exceed federal health standards.
“This last gasp assault on our climate and public lands firmly bolsters the need for President-elect Biden to make good on his commitment to ban federal fossil fuel leasing and reverse the damage wrought by four years of climate and science denial under Trump,” said Matt Nykiel with WildEarth Guardians. “For four years now, we’ve been on the frontlines fighting back against the Trump administration’s attempts to sell out our public lands for fracking and we don’t intend to back down until President-elect Biden holds true to delivering bold action for climate.”
“Regional warming from greenhouse gas pollution is drying the Colorado River and forcing emergency actions to send water from Flaming Gorge Reservoir in Wyoming to Lake Powell in Utah,” said John Weisheit with Living Rivers and Colorado Riverkeeper. “The disastrous decision to increase fossil fuel extraction and greenhouse gas pollution at this crucial juncture is a decision that also accepts a future of dangerous water poverty for the Colorado River Basin.”
The protest also challenges the Bureau’s failure to prioritize leasing outside of sage-grouse habitat and to fully assess potential harms from fracking to grouse populations. Estimates from multiple state wildlife agencies show that grouse populations are plummeting. The grouse once occupied hundreds of millions of acres across the West, but their populations are dwindling as oil and gas development, livestock grazing, roads, powerlines, and other activities have destroyed and fragmented their native habitats.
“With its last dying gasp, the Trump administration appears hellbent on committing as much sage grouse habitat as possible to its failing energy dominance agenda,” said Erik Molvar, executive director of Western Watersheds Project. “But the courts have made clear that this stampede to lease key sage grouse habitats for drilling and fracking is illegal, and the Biden administration has signaled a pivot to climate-friendly policies on public lands, so this commitment of public lands to industrial destruction may be short-lived indeed.”
The protest was filed by WildEarth Guardians, the Center for Biological Diversity, Living Rivers and Colorado Riverkeeper, Waterkeeper Alliance and Western Watersheds Project.
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.
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 already-leased fossil fuels on federal lands, if fully developed, would essentially exhaust the U.S. carbon budget for keeping the world below a 1.5 degrees Celsius temperature increase.
Existing laws give presidents the authority to end new federal fossil fuel leasing. Hundreds of organizations have already petitioned the federal government to end new onshore and offshore leasing. President-elect Biden has committed to “banning new oil and gas leasing on public lands and waters.”
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