Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, September 10, 2015

Contact: Michael Saul, (303) 915-8308,

Report Details Obama’s Authority to Keep 450 Billion Tons of Greenhouse Gas Pollution in Ground

Laws Allow President to Ban New Oil, Gas and Coal Leases on Public Lands, Ocean Areas

WASHINGTON— The Center for Biological Diversity released a report today detailing the forms of legal authority that President Obama, as well as future U.S. presidents, possesses to stop new federal fossil fuel leasing on public lands and oceans.


That step would prevent up to 450 billion tons of greenhouse gas pollution from escaping into the atmosphere and worsening the global climate crisis. It would also protect America’s public lands, water and wildlife from destructive development of oil, gas, coal, oil shale and tar sands.

The report is called Grounded: The President’s Power to Fight Climate Change, Protect Public Lands by Keeping Publicly Owned Fossil Fuels in the Ground. It describes broad authority under the Mineral Leasing Act, Outer Continental Shelf Act and Federal Land Policy and Management Act that the president can use — without waiting for Congress — to defer and ultimately prohibit new leasing of publicly owned, federal fossil fuels onshore and offshore.

“President Obama has the power to take a giant leap toward tackling the climate crisis by ending new leases for drilling, mining and fracking on our public lands,” said Michael Saul with the Center. “It’s not enough to just regulate tail pipes and smokestacks — new production needs to be phased out too. President Obama can do that now, under existing law, by ending new fossil fuel leases on our public lands and in our oceans.”

Today’s report follows a landmark report by EcoShift Consulting, issued in August on behalf of the Center for Biological Diversity and Friends of the Earth, that estimated the potential greenhouse gas emissions of federally controlled, publicly owned fossil fuels. The analysis, The Potential Greenhouse Gas Emissions of U.S. Federal Fossil Fuels, models the life-cycle greenhouse gas pollution that would result from developing federally controlled coal, oil shale, natural gas, crude oil and tar sands on public lands and offshore ocean areas under government control. It showed that:

  • Potential greenhouse gas emissions of federal fossil fuels (leased and unleased) if developed would release up to 492 gigatons (Gt) (one gigaton equals 1 billion tons) of carbon dioxide equivalent pollution (CO2e); representing 46 percent to 50 percent of potential emissions from all remaining U.S. fossil fuels;
  • Of that amount, up to 450 Gt CO2e have not yet been leased to private industry for extraction, an amount that could be kept from the global pool of potential emissions by a president who stops new federal fossil fuel leases;
  • Releasing those 450 Gt CO2e (the equivalent annual pollution of more than 118,000 coal-fired power plants) is incompatible with any U.S. share of global carbon limits that would keep emissions below scientifically advised levels.
  • More than 67 million acres of public land and ocean — an area 55 times larger than Grand Canyon National Park — are already leased to the fossil fuel industry.

Both reports come as world leaders prepare for December’s climate negotiations in Paris, where they must negotiate a binding international agreement to limit greenhouse gas emissions. Since the United States is the world’s largest cumulative emitter and one of its strongest economies, its leadership in those negotiations is vital.

Scientists tell say that to preserve a habitable climate — in which the world isn’t ravaged by rising seas, food shortages and horrific weather events — we must keep a vast majority of fossil fuels in the ground. 

“President Obama has the clear authority to keep nearly half of U.S. potential greenhouse gas pollution out of the atmosphere for good,” said Saul. “If he did, he would make the U.S. the world’s first nation to keep its remaining government-controlled carbon in the ground, and would challenge other nations to do the same. History will side with strong action that ensures a livable climate.”

Download Grounded: The President’s Power to Fight Climate Change, Protect Public Lands by Keeping Publicly Owned Fossil Fuels in the Ground here

Download The Potential Greenhouse Gas Emissions of U.S. Federal Fossil Fuels here

Download The Potential Greenhouse Gas Emissions fact sheet here.

Read our "Keep It in the Ground" webpage here.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 900,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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