People to President Obama: End Fossil Fuel Leasing

by Brian Johnson

September 15, 2015

Activists from around the country joined at the White House today to demand that President Obama protect his climate legacy and end fossil fuel leasing on federal land.

Princess Lucaj of Resisting Environmental Destruction on Indigenous Lands speaking at the White House.

© Colin Wheeler/Greenpeace

It was a day for people from all walks of life, all parts of the country, to call for climate leadership.

Community leaders from Alaska, Florida, New Mexico, Utah, and the Gulf of Mexico, along with Greenpeace and representatives from a range of environmental groups, gathered for a press conference in front of the White House today to deliver a simple message: That President Obama should keep federally-owned fossil fuels in the ground.

The press conference also announced the release of a coalition letter to President Obama, signed by more than 400 environmental, faith, labor, indigenous and advocacy groups and leaders, calling for an end to the leasing.

“Enough damage has been done to the Earth,” said Louise Benally, and activist with the Navajo Nation. “We want the president to live up to his words [on climate]. That is why I am here.”

A Threat to the Climate

The various leasing programs are run by different agencies within the Department of the Interior, and allow private companies to lease federally-owned land and seafloor for extraction of oil, coal, and gas. The program is a massive threat to our climate, capable of producing up to 450 billion tons of carbon pollution if all its fossil stores are extracted and burned. Already, the program has produced almost 25 percent of all U.S. energy-related emissions over the past decade.

“It’s time to lock our carbon in the ground, before it’s too late,” said Tim Ream of WildEarth Guardians.

The federal government manages fossil fuel leases all over the country–from coal reserves in the Powder River Basin in America’s Mountain West, to offshore oil and gas in the Alaskan Arctic. The leased areas are federally-owned fossil fuel reserves, owned by American taxpayers, and would feed potential coal exports through the Pacific Northwest, as well as Arctic drilling by Shell.

{evnt} at The White House in Washington, D.C.,  Sept. 15, 2015.

Louise Benally of the Navajo Nation at the White House.

A Presidential Legacy

The good news is that President Obama has the executive authority to stop the leasing. “With the stroke of a pen, you could 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 coalition letter says. Signers to the letter include prominent activists and experts Noam Chomsky, Tim DeChristopher, Robert F. Kennedy Jr., Winona LaDuke, Bill McKibben, and Stuart Pimm.

Halting the leasing program also sets the stage for Obama’s leadership going into this year’s UN climate talks in Paris. With the leasing program at bay, Obama can show that America is serious about addressing its majority role in the world’s climate crisis.

Our government has already leased an area 55 times larger than the Grand Canyon to fossil fuel companies, causing between $16 and $155 billion a year in climate-related damages. But President Obama can stop the damage, protecting his climate legacy, and our climate future.

President Obama needs to hear from you, too. Sign our petition and tell him to keep fossil fuels in the ground.

Brian Johnson

By Brian Johnson

Brian is a campaigner with Greenpeace's Climate and Energy Team. Follow him @BFWJohnson.

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