Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, August 11, 2016

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

Industry Lawsuit Ignores BLM Authority Over Public Land Fossil Fuel Leasing

WASHINGTON— The Center for Biological Diversity today responded a lawsuit filed by the Western Energy Alliance contending that, under the Mineral Leasing Act, the Bureau of Land Management is required to hold quarterly oil and gas lease auctions on public lands. 

“A rising chorus of Americans want President Obama to align our country’s energy policies and climate goals by ending new fossil fuel leasing on our public lands and oceans — and that has the fossil fuel industry worried,” said Michael Saul, a senior attorney with the Center. “This baseless lawsuit ignores well-established authority for the president and the Bureau of Land Management to not offer new climate-destroying leases to industry.”

Contrary to industry’s claims, the Mineral Leasing Act confers discretion on the Secretary of the Interior, not the industry, to determine which public lands are made available for oil and gas leasing and when. The Mineral Leasing Act, the National Environmental Policy Act and nearly a century of judicial precedents give the secretary discretion whether, where and when to lease.

“The oil and gas industry’s complaint attempts to ignore the inconvenient language of the Mineral Leasing Act — that the quarterly lease sale schedule only applies where the secretary concludes lands should be ‘eligible’ and ‘available,’” Saul said.

Today’s lawsuit is a direct response to the growing “Keep it in the Ground” movement that is calling on President Obama to end all new fossil fuel leasing on public lands.  Since last September, every BLM oil and gas auction has met with public protest. Those protests have halted several auctions, and spurred BLM and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management to begin conducting fossil fuel auctions online to avoid public controversy.

“Ending the federal fossil fuel leasing programs is a necessary inevitability and industry knows it,” said Saul. “Until that happens, new fossil fuel leases will face growing climate protests from the public — and rightfully so.”

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 legal 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 on the Obama administration to halt all new onshore fossil fuel leasing.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.1 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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