Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, March 19, 2015

Contact:  Taylor McKinnon, (801) 300-2414,

Jewell's Fossil Fuel Plans Undermine Climate Goals

WASHINGTON— A speech by Interior Secretary Sally Jewell at the Center for Strategic and International Studies on Tuesday highlighted deep contradictions between the Obama administration’s climate goals and its “all of the above” energy policy, which continues an aggressive program of fossil fuel development on public lands and oceans.

White River
Oil and gas development and fracking near Utah’s White and Green Rivers. This image is available for media use. Credit: Taylor McKinnon/Ecoflight

Secretary Jewell told the audience that “we must — we must — do more to cut greenhouse gas pollution that is warming our planet.” Yet she also discussed the Obama administration’s plans for opening up vast areas of public lands and oceans to drilling and mining for oil, gas and coal.

“There’s a dangerous dissonance between the Obama administration’s climate rhetoric and Secretary Jewell’s eagerness to open public land to drilling, mining and fracking,” said Taylor McKinnon of the Center for Biological Diversity. “We can’t avoid dangerous global warming and protect our wildlife and oceans while continuing to develop dirty, climate-disrupting fossil fuels.”

Jewell’s speech did not acknowledge the international scientific consensus that a majority of proved fossil fuels must remain in the ground to avoid dangerous climate destabilization. She also did not mention that avoiding catastrophic warming will require ending most or all fossil fuel emissions by mid-century.

One-fifth of America’s greenhouse gas pollution can be attributed to fossil fuel leases on public lands. A report issued recently by Stratus Consulting estimates that in 2012 the ultimate greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel leasing on federal public lands and waters was about 21 percent of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions — the equivalent of the annual greenhouse gas pollution from 283 million passenger vehicles.

“Demand-side solutions like the Clean Power Plan won’t be enough to prevent catastrophic warming,” McKinnon said. “The vast majority of U.S. fossil fuels must stay in the ground if we are to avoid dangerous climate destabilization. Federal fossil fuels — those that Secretary Jewell and President Obama control — should be the first taken off the table.”

Since taking office the Obama administration has enacted an aggressive program of federal fossil fuel leasing. As of 2013 more than 474,000 acres were under lease for federal coal extraction in the lower 48 states. Since 2008, 2,826 million short tons of federal coal have been sold. As of 2014 more than 34 million acres of federal lands were under lease for onshore oil and gas; over 12 million of those acres are producing. 

The administration has proposed opening new areas for offshore drilling, including in the American Arctic and off the Atlantic coast. Since 2008, 30,259 billion cubic feet of federal natural gas, 684 million barrels of natural gas plant liquids and 3,903 million barrels of crude oil and lease condensate have been sold. 

According to an analysis by the Wilderness Society, 179,318,675 acres (90 percent) of the public land administered by the Bureau of Land Management in the 11 western states are now available for oil and gas leasing.

In 2013 the Obama administration allocated 810,000 acres of federal lands as available for high-carbon oil shale and tar sands leasing in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming. The administration is in the process of approving the first commercial tar sands lease on U.S. public lands in Utah. 

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 825,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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