Climate Coalition Calls on President Obama to Halt Fossil Fuel Leasing on Public Lands, Oceans

For Immediate Release, September 14, 2015, 9 a.m. EST

Contact: Ruth Breech, Rainforest Action Network, (415) 238-1766,

Climate Coalition Calls on President Obama to Halt Fossil Fuel Leasing on Public Lands, Oceans

Hundreds of Organizations, Leaders Mobilize to Keep Publicly Owned Oil, Gas, Coal—and Up To Half of Potential Emissions from All Remaining U.S. Fossil Fuels—in the Ground

WASHINGTON — A coalition of more than 400 organizations and leaders will deliver a historic letter to the White House  on Tuesday calling on President Obama to stop new federal fossil fuel leasing on public lands and oceans in the United States. 

The letter argues that, by keeping publicly owned fossil fuels that haven’t already been leased to industry in the ground, President Obama can keep nearly half of the potential emissions from all remaining U.S. fossil fuels, up to 450 billion tons, from the global pool of potential carbon pollution.

More than 67 million acres of public land and ocean are already leased to the fossil fuel industry. That represents an area 55 times larger than Grand Canyon National Park and contains up to 43 billion tons of potential carbon pollution. Deeming unleased oil, gas and coal “unburnable” would accomplish more in the global fight against climate catastrophe than any other single climate action taken by the Obama administration. 

Hundreds of prominent organizations and leaders from Alaska to Florida signed the letter, among them indigenous leaders, labor unions, scientists, religious leaders, public interest groups and climate activists, including: Bill McKibben, Winona LaDuke, Robert F. Kennedy Jr., Dr. Noam Chomsky, Dr. Michael Mann, Tim DeChristopher, Dr. Stuart Pimm, Dr. Michael Soule, United Auto Workers Union, Unitarian Universalist Association, Physicians for Social Responsibility, Protect Our Winters,, Center for Biological Diversity, Environment America, Friends of the Earth, Food & Water Watch, Indigenous Environmental Network, Oil Change International, Greenpeace, Rainforest Action Network, REDOIL, Sierra Club, Waterkeeper Alliance, WildEarth Guardians and hundreds of others.

The American public owns nearly 650 million acres of federal public land, and more than 1.7 billion acres of Outer Continental Shelf — and the fossil fuels beneath them. This includes federal public lands like national parks, national forests and wildlife refuges that make up about a third of the U.S. land area — and oceans like Alaska’s Chukchi Sea, the Gulf of Mexico and the eastern seaboard. These places and fossil fuels are held in trust for the public by the federal government; federal fossil fuel leasing is administered by the Department of the Interior. 

The letter, which comes as international leaders prepare for December’s climate negotiations in Paris, calls on President Obama “to make our nation the first to commit to keeping all of its remaining, unleased public fossil fuels in the ground, thereby challenging other nations to do the same.” It concludes that “such leadership is necessary to ensure a livable climate and planet for both present and future generations.” 

Download a copy of the signed letter here.

Letter signers, who will hold a press conference outside of the White House on Tuesday, issued the following statements: 

“If President Obama’s serious about being remembered as the president who put America on the path to solving climate change, there’s a simple step he can take today to put a huge dent in the problem — and it doesn’t even require Congressional approval. Every day, the federal government leases land owned by U.S. taxpayers to massive fossil fuel companies, all so they can dig huge amounts of oil, coal, and gas out of the ground and make climate change worse. In fact, 450 billion tons of carbon pollution sit beneath lands owned by U.S. taxpayers. Compare that to the 5 gigatons of carbon pollution the President’s Clean Power Plan would cut by 2030, and it’s pretty clear that fossil fuel extraction on public lands is a far bigger fish he can fry. That’s the kind of bold, aggressive action it’s going to take to solve this problem, and that’s what it means to truly be a leader on climate change.” —May Boeve, Executive Director,

“Coal companies like Peabody Energy have been mining federal and tribal coal in and near native communities like mine for decades. The tribal governments allow energy companies to impound peoples’ livestock, which is the only source of income and food for communities impacted by forced removal—a legacy policy initiated by Senator John McCain for Peabody to gain access to coal mining locations. Peabody mine sites don’t have bonds and liners in the waste ponds. Contaminated waters are released in the headwaters after every rain, polluting the little water they leave behind. The Gold King mining disaster is just the most recent example of the kind of devastation that has been happening to the Dine for generations. Before coal, we were devastated by uranium. Now, our families are the targets of a fracking boom on federal lands in places like Chaco Canyon. Dirty energy companies ruin our lands, while the profit goes elsewhere. 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.”  —Louise Benally, Big Mountain Diné Nation, Indigenous Cultural Concepts, Media Island International 

“I would ask that you put yourself in our place. Over five years have passed since BP’s broken promises spewed as easily from their tongues as the oil did from their broken pipe. To this day our peoples and ecosystems suffer from BP’s brutal, callous, and lasting assault. Five years, and our dolphins still die, our turtles still die, our oysters still die, our marshes still die, our people still die… BP is a corporate serial killer. BP is a terrorist organization. Yet they not only remain free to continue their patterns of destruction, they are subsidized by our government to do it. How many more graves will there be, before justice is truly served in the Gulf Coast? That is the only question we have now.” —Cherri Foytlin, Bridge the Gulf

“Each new fossil fuel lease worsens the climate crisis and shows a dangerous disconnect between Obama’s energy policies and climate rhetoric. He can’t have it both ways: Fighting climate change requires keeping fossil fuels in the ground. That work should start now by ending fossil fuel leasing on our public lands and oceans.” —Kierán Suckling, Executive Director, Center for Biological Diversity 

“Climate denial is the refusal to acknowledge that fossil fuels have to stay in the ground, so the basis for any honest climate policy has to be keeping fossil fuels in the ground.” —Tim DeChristopher, Founder, Climate Disobedience Center

“The only surefire way to protect human health, clean drinking water and the global climate from coal, oil and gas is to keep them in the ground. We have fought for decades to protect communities and the environment from the negative impacts of oil and gas, and now, we call on President Obama to stand with communities and make sure that the U.S. does our part against global climate change.” —Jennifer Krill, Executive Director, Earthworks 

“The best way to prevent greenhouse gases from entering the atmosphere is to leave them where they lie. You can’t be a climate leader while continuing to open up large amounts of federal land to extraction and encouraging continued fossil fuel development. If President Obama is to keep his commitment to curbing climate change, he must do everything he can to keep fossil fuels in the ground and stop drilling and fracking on public lands.” —Wenonah Hauter, Executive Director, Food & Water Watch

“The ‘river of grass’ in our Florida Everglades could soon become the home of numerous fracking rigs if the U.S. continues our unsustainable policy of extracting fossil fuels. Under Florida’s antiquated laws, dangerous new fracking techniques are allowed in the state with almost no oversight.  If allowed to expand, fracking in the Florida Everglades would threaten the drinking water of millions of South Florida residents and permanently damage the ecosystem of one of our national treasures.”—Jorge Aguilar, Florida Director, Food & Water Watch 

“To demonstrate strong climate leadership, President Obama needs to go beyond regulating the tailpipes and the smokestacks. The president must use all tools at his disposal, such as an executive moratorium, to stop the leasing of our public fossil fuels and keep them in the ground.” —Erich Pica, President, Friends of the Earth

“President Obama understands the urgent crisis of climate change, and yet, his administration has allowed Shell to drill in the Arctic and companies like Peabody to lease billions of tons of coal from public lands. He still has the chance to be remembered as a climate leader, but he must take bold, concrete steps to keep fossil fuels in the ground.” —Annie Leonard, Executive Director, Greenpeace

“The stakes have never been higher for Water in the West. Our small family business, Holiday River Expeditions, is completely dependent on clean, safe and abundant water running through the desert, not simply for our way of life but for survival in a desert.  Every new extraction project leased on our state’s ample public lands requires water; water our state and every community along the Colorado River’s drainage doesn’t have the capacity to give. For us, Keeping ‘it’ [fossil fuels] in the ground is not only about unforeseen impacts of Climate Change, it’s about our lives right here and now.”—Lauren Wood, Trip Director, Holiday River Expeditions  

“The president desperately needs to align his energy policy with his climate action. The simple fact is we must leave the vast majority of fossil fuels in the ground if we want any chance of a safe climate future.  In other words, when you’re in a hole it’s time to stop digging. Leasing fossil fuels on public lands is irrational and an inappropriate use of our public resources in this time of climate crisis.  It should end today.” –Stephen Kretzmann, Executive Director, Oil Change International

“It’s time to put health first. Stopping federal fossil fuel leasing will help fight climate change and aid in reversing its detrimental impacts on communities’ health.” —Catherine Thomasson, M.D., Executive Director, Physicians for Social Responsibility

“The federal government is enabling some of the wealthiest companies in the world, with names like Exxon and Peabody, to mine and drill America’s public lands for private profit. This egregious drilling, fracking and mining is devastating the health of communities and endangering the stability of our climate. We are simply asking President Obama to stop selling off our national forests, oceans and sacred heritage sites for pennies on the dollar and slow the effects of climate change by stopping fossil fuel leasing on public lands.” —Lindsey Allen, Executive Director, Rainforest Action Network

“We are in climate crisis in Alaska, and advancing energy extraction within our ancestral territories would seriously exacerbate climate change and threaten our ability to survive in the Arctic.  Climate Change is upsetting the delicate balance in many ecosystems.  There is an urgency to take action now.  The President was in Alaska, and saw for himself the consequences of climate change.  Indigenous peoples of the North implore him to take effective action now to address the issue while we still can.  If the U.S. is serious about Climate Change, rescind the Shell permits to drill in the Chukchi Sea, and permanently protect the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. We must keep the remaining fossil fuels in the ground and continue towards a just transition to alternative energies.  We do not have the luxury of time.  We can implement clean energy systems in the U.S. now.”  —Princess Daazhraii Johnson, Resisting Environmental Destruction on Indigenous Lands (REDOIL)

“The science is definitive: If we are to lessen the effects of climate change, we must leave dirty fuels in the ground. President Obama has taken historic steps to moving America toward a clean energy economy while leading the world forward. It’s time he solidifies his climate legacy by stopping new oil and gas leases on federally managed lands and waters, leaving dirty fuels where they belong: in the ground.” —Michael Brune, Executive Director, Sierra Club 

“Digging up these dirty fuels from America’s treasured public lands is nothing short of climate denial. With the costs of climate change mounting with every ton of coal mined and barrel of oil fracked, it’s critical that the president stand behind his calls for climate action and keep our fossil fuels in the ground.” —John Horning, Executive Director, WildEarth Guardians