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September 18, 2015

Letter to Obama: No Drilling on Public Lands
    by Robert Kropp

Hundreds of signatories call on the President to end the policy of leasing federal lands for fossil fuel exploration and extraction. -- Sixty-seven million acres of federal public lands and water are currently leased to fossil fuel corporations, representing a clear threat to effective climate change mitigation and demonstrating the extent to which short-term corporate priorities take precedence over long-term sustainability. In a recent report prepared for the Center for Biological Diversity and Friends of the Earth, EcoShift Consulting found that the potential greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions of federal fossil fuels represent as much as half of all remaining US-based GHG emissions.

During the past decade, in fact, almost a quarter of all emissions from the energy sector in the US has come from fossil fuels originating on public lands. The amount accounts for about four percent of all global emissions. And, as Jayni Foley Hein of the Institute for Policy Integrity at NYU School of Law
reported in the Washington Post in June, the minimum bid for securing a lease to drill on public lands remains the same as it has been for decades: a mere $2 an acre.

Producing potential emissions of almost 500 gigatons of CO2, of course, is utterly incompatible with the science-based limits necessary for avoiding the worst effects of climate change, but the possibility remains for as long as the federal leasing practice remains in effect. So in the aftermath of the publication of EcoShift's report, a
letter signed by more than 400 organizations and individuals was delivered this week to President Obama, requesting that he “take the bold action needed to stop new federal leasing of fossil fuels, and to keep those remaining fossil fuels — our publicly owned fossil fuels — safely in the ground.”

The letter arrives at a problematic time for Obama. True, on the on hand the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently issued its
Climate Action Plan, which, the Agency stated, will “cut methane emissions from the oil and gas sector by 40 to 45 percent from 2012 levels by 2025.” On the other hand, however, Shell has once again been granted permission by the President to drill for oil in the Arctic.

“President Obama understands the urgent crisis of climate change, and yet, his administration has allowed Shell to drill in the Arctic and companies like Peabody to lease billions of tons of coal from public lands,” Annie Leonard, Executive Director of letter signatory Greenpeace stated. “He still has the chance to be remembered as a climate leader, but he must take bold, concrete steps to keep fossil fuels in the ground.”

“Stopping federal fossil fuel leasing also makes economic sense,” the letter states. “According to the federal government’s own estimates, the burning of our publicly owned fossil fuels costs society between $16 billion and $155 billion in climate-related damages per year. As you’ve noted, the unparalleled potential for clean energy jobs in the renewable energy and efficiency sectors are the path to a just transition for a clean energy future.”

The letter specifically requests that Obama exert existing executive authority to immediately stop all new leasing of federal public lands for oil and gas exploration.

“The president desperately needs to align his energy policy with his climate action,” Stephen Kretzmann, Executive Director of Oil Change International, said. “The simple fact is we must leave the vast majority of fossil fuels in the ground if we want any chance of a safe climate future.”

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