With a passionate press conference outside the White House on Tuesday, a sweeping coalition of climate, labor, indigenous and public health groups and leaders called on President Barack Obama to make the U.S. the first nation to commit to keeping all of its remaining, unleased public fossil fuels in the ground.
“Each new federal (fossil fuels) lease opens new deposits for development that should be deemed unburnable,” reads a letter delivered Tuesday.
Such a move is imperative, the more than 400 organizations and individuals wrote in a letter outlining their demands.
“The cost of continuing federal fossil fuel leasing to our land, climate and communities is too high,” reads the missive delivered Tuesday. “The science is clear that to maintain a good chance of avoiding catastrophic levels of warming, the world must keep the vast majority of its remaining fossil fuels in the ground. Federal fossil fuels—those that you control—are the natural place to begin.”
Speaking to Obama’s ability to set an international precedent, the letter continues: “Each new federal fossil fuel lease opens new deposits for development that should be deemed unburnable. By placing those deposits off limits, stopping new leasing would help align your administration’s energy policy with a safer climate future and global carbon budgets.”
The campaign comes just days after the Obama administration announced it would open nearly 40 million acres in the Gulf of Mexico to new oil and gas drilling leases and one month after it approved a permit for Royal Dutch Shell to drill in the Arctic.
Of course, significant damage has been done on the more than 67 million acres of public land and ocean already leased to the fossil fuel industry.
“Dirty energy companies ruin our lands, while the profit goes elsewhere,” said indigenous activist Louise Benally, of Big Mountain Diné Nation, in a statement. “Environmental concerns are not being addressed properly by agencies that should be accountable. Groundwater tables have dropped by big drops, the greenhouse gases being released into the air are not monitored correctly and health impacts are not monitored at all. This devastation of our communities is a kind of terrorism made possible by senators like John McCain, all while President Obama turns a blind eye. These industries are not accountable to the land, the natural world or the people living here. Their destruction has to stop now.”
As the Washington Post wrote on Monday, “the statement is significant because it represents the latest stage in the development of a climate grassroots movement that has already brought us the Keystone XL pipeline battle.”
Michael Brune, the executive director of the Sierra Club, which backed the statement, agreed. “I think that this is the next frontier of climate advocacy,” he told the Post. “We know that we have made genuine progress in cutting carbon from cars and trucks and increasingly from the electric sector. And all of that is important, it’s necessary—and it won’t get the job done unless we begin to curtail development of fossil fuels, particularly in sensitive areas.”
The letter’s signatories claim Obama has the power to dub untapped oil, gas and coal reserves “unburnable” under existing federal laws.
“Such leadership is necessary to ensure a livable climate and planet for both present and future generations,” they wrote.