Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, July 21, 2016

Contact:  Wendy Park, Center for Biological Diversity, (510) 844-7138, 
Jim Scheff, Kentucky Heartwood, (314) 971-4023
Marissa Knodel, Friends of the Earth, (202) 222-0729,

Legal Protest Filed Against Fossil Fuel Auction on Public Lands in Kentucky, Mississippi

BLM’s Switch to Online Sales Won’t Slow Movement to 'Keep It in the Ground' to
Protect Climate, Red-cockaded Woodpecker, Bald Eagles

JACKSON, Miss.— Conservation groups filed a formal administrative protest late Wednesday challenging a Bureau of Land Management plan to auction off 4,400 acres of publicly owned fossil fuels in Kentucky and Mississippi. The protest cites concerns over climate change impacts and fracking, including toxic wastewater disposal; impacts to wetlands; and threats to several sensitive species, including endangered red-cockaded woodpeckers and one of the largest great blue heron rookeries in Kentucky.

Groups protesting the lease sales include the Center for Biological Diversity, Kentucky Heartwood, Kentucky Environmental Foundation, Kentucky Resources Council, Kentucky Conservation Committee, Friends of the Earth and Sierra Club.

“Sloughs Wildlife Management Area is one of the most popular WMAs in Western Kentucky, attracting thousands of geese and ducks each year,” said Craig Williams, executive director of the Kentucky Environmental Foundation. “Putting these wetlands at risk from the drilling of fossil fuels is irresponsible, shortsighted and unnecessary.”

The BLM in September plans to auction off 184 acres in and around Sloughs Wildlife Management Area in Kentucky, as well as more than 4,200 acres in the Homochitto and Bienville national forests in Mississippi, for oil and gas fracking.

This will be the second time the agency has conducted its fossil fuel auction online and the first since the growing “Keep It in the Ground” movement began rallying in public opposition at the sites of these federal lease auctions. BLM previously conducted an online trial run in 2010.

“The BLM can change the venue, but it can’t stop Americans from exercising their constitutional right to protest the plundering of our national, public lands for the benefit of private oil and gas corporations,” said Wendy Park of the Center for Biological Diversity. “If we are to honor our commitments in the Paris climate agreement, President Obama needs to halt new federal fossil fuel auctions now.”

The administrative protest of the Kentucky parcels cites concerns over threats to habitat vital to three bat species protected under the Endangered Species Act: the Indiana bat, northern long-eared bat and gray bat. It also cites potential damage to important wetlands that feed the Ohio River and provide food, shelter and breeding sites for sensitive species including the copperbelly water snake, many migratory birds, bald eagles and one of the state’s largest great blue heron rookeries.

For the Mississippi parcels, concerns include BLM’s failure to analyze the impacts of hydraulic fracturing on red-cockaded woodpeckers, potential to pollute streams and wetlands, and failure to address disposal of toxic wastewater from fracking operations.

For both parcels the protest documents the failure of the BLM to give the public adequate notice of the lease sale and BLM’s failure to consider the climate impact of burning the fuels.

The legal protest is part of a rapidly growing national movement calling on President Obama to expand his climate legacy by halting new federal fossil fuel leases on public lands and oceans — a step that would keep up to 450 billion tons of potential carbon pollution in the ground. “Keep It in the Ground” rallies opposed to federal fossil fuel auctions have been growing across the country — in Alaska, Colorado, Utah, Wisconsin, Wyoming and Nevada — and have caused some auctions to be canceled or postponed. 

“The Keep It in the Ground movement will continue to call out the hypocrisy of the administration’s stated goal of fighting climate change while at the same time selling off fossil fuels on our public lands,” Park said.

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 land, which makes 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 the fossil fuels beneath them are held in trust for the public by the federal government; federal fossil fuel leasing is administered by the Department of the Interior.

Over the past decade, the combustion of federal fossil fuels has resulted in nearly a quarter of all U.S. energy-related emissions. An 2015 report by EcoShift Consulting, commissioned by the Center for Biological Diversity and Friends of the Earth, found that remaining federal oil, gas, coal, oil shale and tar sands that have not been leased to industry contain up to 450 billion tons of potential greenhouse gas pollution. As of earlier this year, 67 million acres of federal fossil fuel were already leased to industry, an area more than 55 times larger than Grand Canyon National Park containing up to 43 billion tons of potential greenhouse gas pollution.

Last year Sens. Merkley (D-Ore.), Sanders (I-Vt.) and others introduced the Keep It In the Ground Act (S. 2238) legislation to end new federal fossil fuel leases and cancel non-producing federal fossil fuel leases. Days later President Obama canceled the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, saying, “Because ultimately, if we’re going to prevent large parts of this Earth from becoming not only inhospitable but uninhabitable in our lifetimes, we’re going to have to keep some fossil fuels in the ground rather than burn them and release more dangerous pollution into the sky.”

Download the September “Keep It in the Ground” letter to President Obama. 

Download Grounded: The Presidents Power to Fight Climate Change, Protect Public Lands by Keeping Publicly Owned Fossil Fuels in the Ground (this report details the legal authorities with which a president can halt new federal fossil fuel leases). 

Download The Potential Greenhouse Gas Emissions of U.S. Federal Fossil Fuels (this report quantifies the volume and potential greenhouse gas emissions of remaining federal fossil fuels) and The Potential Greenhouse Gas Emissions fact sheet. 

Download Over-leased: How Production Horizons of Already Leased Federal Fossil Fuels Outlast Global Carbon Budgets.

Download Public Lands, Private Profits, a report about the corporations that are profiting from climate-destroying fossil fuel extraction on public lands.

Download the Center for Biological Diversity’s formal petition calling on the Obama administration to halt all new offshore fossil fuel leasing.

Download the Center for Biological Diversity’s legal petition with 264 other groups calling for a halt to all new onshore fossil fuel leasing.

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