By Andrea Germanos
“Our public lands and waters belong to all of us—not to fossil fuel executives who want to exploit our health and our kids’ future to get rich,” said Sen. Jeff Merkley.
Climate advocacy groups applauded the reintroduction on Wednesday of legislation that would ban new leases for fossil fuel extraction on public lands and waters.
Led by Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and Rep. Jared Huffman (D-Calif.), the Keep It in the Ground Act of 2021 says that such a ban would “prevent the release of 90% of the potential emissions from federal fossil fuels.”
“What this bill lays out is simple: no new oil, gas, coal, or tar sands leases offshore or on federal lands,” Merkley tweeted.
“What it does,” he continued, “is huge: accelerates the transition away from fossil fuels and toward our clean energy future and protects frontline communities.”
The U.S. government estimates extraction and end-use combustion of fossil fuels produced on federal lands account for about a fifth of the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions.
Merkley, a member of the Senate’s Environment and Public Works Committee, said in a statement that the impacts of the climate emergency are already clear to see. Urgent and bold action is needed, he said.
“Climate chaos is causing more and more devastating wildfires, violent hurricanes, extreme droughts, and dangerous winter storms—events that are claiming lives, destroying entire communities, threatening livelihoods, and causing billions of dollars in damages. And let’s be clear,” Merkley continued, “the damage targets the pillars of our rural communities—farming, fishing, and forestry.”
“No one is immune from its escalating impacts,” said Merkley, who called for a “comprehensive strategy to address climate chaos head-on” that includes “getting the government out of the fossil fuel business.”
“Our public lands and waters belong to all of us—not to fossil fuel executives who want to exploit our health and our kids’ future to get rich. It’s time to keep citizen-owned fossil fuels in the ground where they can’t inflict further harm on all of us,” he said.
Huffman, for his part, stressed the need to keep “the world’s remaining fossil fuels in the ground” and heralded the legislation as “one of the most sensible steps the federal government can take to reduce emissions, protect the public, and avoid the most damaging impacts of climate change.”
The legislation is supported by 21 lawmakers, a statement from Merkley’s office says, including Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.).
“If we’re really the global leaders we say we are, we must ensure that all fossil fuels stay in the ground.”
—Natalie Mebane, 350.orgAmong the outside voices cheering the Keep It in the Ground Act was Nicole Ghio, senior fossil fuels program manager for Friends of the Earth, who called the measure “vital.”
“This important legislation recognizes not just the science, but the millions of people, frontline and Indigenous communities that have called for an end to destructive fossil fuel extraction,” said Ghio. “It is time for Congress to finally stop the pillaging of our public lands by fossil fuel companies.”
350.org policy director Natalie Mebane also urged federal lawmakers to advance the legislation quickly so that the government stops “using our public lands to benefit the fossil fuel industry.”
“We cannot meaningfully address the climate crisis without stopping the expansion of fossil fuels,” she said. Mebane also referenced President Joe Biden’s widely supported infrastructure plan and his upcoming virtual climate summit bringing together dozens of world loaders.
“Two weeks after Biden unveiled the American Jobs Plan and with one week to go for his Leaders Summit on Climate,” said Mebane, “this is the perfect opportunity for the United States to take a decisive step away from fossil fuels and towards a just, renewable future.”
“If we’re really the global leaders we say we are,” said Mebane, “we must ensure that all fossil fuels stay in the ground.”
Editor’s note: This article was originally published on Common Dreams
Image credit: Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images
Andrea Germanos is senior editor and a staff writer at Common Dreams.