America’s publicly owned lands and offshore waters are being sold at bargain prices for private fossil fuel extraction — making the world’s wealthiest companies even richer while driving the world’s climate deeper into crisis.



Rainforest Action Network has compiled the top federal leaseholders in each of three fossil fuel arenas: coal mining, onshore oil and gas drilling, and offshore oil and gas drilling. Dubbed here as the “Filthy 15” energy corporations, these fossil fuel companies generate millions in profit each year off of our shared national resources while damaging our environmental legacy for generations to come.

Some of the wealthiest energy companies — ExxonMobil, Royal Dutch Shell, and Arch Coal — are exploiting and degrading millions of acres of America’s public lands and offshore waters, causing serious harm to the health of communities and sending massive carbon pollution into the atmosphere through increasingly extreme extraction methods. Mining, drilling, and fracking coal, oil, and gas on publicly owned lands already accounts for roughly 25% of climate change emissions from the United States (U.S.).

The federal government enables this destruction at a tremendous cost to the U.S. taxpayer by selling off our national forests, grasslands, deserts, oceans, and sacred heritage sites for pennies on the dollar. The antiquated and opaque federal fossil fuel leasing program, administered by the U.S. Department of the Interior, transfers vast amounts of public wealth into private hands by auctioning off public lands and offshore waters for corporate profit.

President Obama can immediately and unilaterally stop the bankrolling of wealthy energy corporations, prevent environmental destruction, preserve the heritage of Indigenous sacred sites, and slow the disastrous effects of climate change by ending the outdated practice of fossil fuel leasing on public lands and offshore waters.

Key Takeaways

  • Scientists agree that in order to stay within the global carbon budget and avoid dangerous warming, a majority of all proven coal, oil, and gas reserves must stay in the ground, and fossil fuel combustion must end by mid-to-late-century.

  • America’s public lands and waters are being given away to some of the wealthiest energy companies in the world for as low as $2 an acre. These companies have long track records of corruption, violation of Indigenous sacred sites, severe health impacts on communities, environmental destruction, evading payments, and jeopardizing the future of our climate.

  • If President Obama wants to establish a truly lasting climate legacy, he can and should issue an executive order to stop leasing for fossil fuels on our public lands and offshore waters.