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The Interior Department Keeps Cancelling Fossil Fuel Lease Sales and We Love It

by Diana Best

February 11, 2016

When federal lease sales are postponed, delayed, or cancelled, how does the climate movement respond? We grow stronger.

Democratic Debate Protest

Keep it in the ground activists outside the recent New Hampshire primary.

© Andrew Lichtenstein / Greenpe

The Colorado Bureau of Land Management (BLM) announced yet another postponed oil and gas lease sale. Today’s postponed auction was for six parcels of public land, totaling roughly 5,632 acres in Dolores and Montezuma counties in Colorado. Last week in Wyoming, the ante was quite a bit higher: 82 parcels totaling 82,119 acres postponed until further notice. And before that, lease sales in New Mexico and Montana were postponed.

In total, eight federal lease sales have been cancelled, postponed, or delayed since October 2015 — taking 120 million acres of sea and more than 125,000 acres of land off the table for fossil fuel exploitation.

What seemed like a string of happy coincidences is now a definite trend.

The end of fossil fuels is near, and we have a chance right now to speed its coming.

For those of us that have watched the government give away our public lands to fossil fuel interests for years, this new trend is a welcome departure.

The Obama administration alone has already leased nearly 15 million acres of public land and 21 million acres of ocean for fossil fuels. All together, the fossil fuel industry has leased more than 67 million acres, an area 55 times the size of Grand Canyon National Park.

While the BLM has offered a handful of explanations for the string of recent delays, one thing is clear: with each postponement, massive amounts of publicly owned fossil fuels stay in the ground a little longer, and the movement to keep them there permanently gets stronger.

But how we move forward from here must change.

There are still four lease sales between now and the end of March, in Salt Lake City, Reno, Milwaukee, and New Orleans. Each one of them is a chance to move closer to a status quo free of fossil fuels, but we won’t get there without major changes to the federal leasing program.

The delays we’ve already seen only add to the case for overhauling this outdated program. For one, the devastating impacts of fossil fuel leasing on climate and wildlife are already clear. In fact, the potential carbon pollution from federal fossil fuels (both leased and unleased) is 349 to 492 billion tons of carbon emissions, equivalent to the emissions from 83,000 coal-fired power plants for one year.

And through repeated cancellations and delays, it’s becoming clear that the BLM and its regional offices aren’t ready to manage this program in the first place.

President Obama can do something about that.

The Obama administration has already made big moves to change the federal coal program. Last month, the administration announced a three-year pause on new federal coal leases while the Department of Interior conducts a deep review of the program, including how federal coal leasing fits into our broader climate goals.

This is a huge and important step, but it’s not the end. Now it’s time to do the same thing with our federal oil and gas program.  

Are you ready for the end of the fossil fuel era? Sign on to tell President Obama to keep fossil fuels in the ground.

Diana Best

By Diana Best

Diana Best is a senior climate and energy campaigner at Greenpeace USA, based in Denver, Colorado. She began working with Greenpeace in 2008 on federal climate legislation and has since worked on reforming federal fossil fuel leasing programs and fighting new infrastructure projects around the United States. She is currently leading Greenpeace’s “Hold the Line” work aimed at halting the political and social influence of the oil industry during Trump’s administration.

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