Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, September 2, 2016

Contact:  Diana Dascalu-Joffe, (720) 925-2521,

Legal Protest Filed Against Fossil Fuel Auction of Public Lands in Wyoming

BLM Lease Sale in High Desert Region Fails to Weigh Climate and Air-quality Impact,
Threatens Sage Grouse and Mule Deer

CHEYENNE, Wyo.— Conservation groups filed a formal administrative protest late Thursday challenging a Bureau of Land Management plan to auction off more than 32,000 acres of publicly owned fossil fuels in southern Wyoming. The protest cites concerns over air pollution, fracking and potential harm to threatened species — including the greater sage grouse — and the BLM’s failure to consider the auction’s impact on climate change.

Greater sage grouse
Greater sage grouse photo by Bob Wick, BLM. This photo is available for media use.

Groups protesting the lease auction include the Center for Biological Diversity, Great Old Broads for Wilderness and the Sierra Club.

This auction of public fossil fuels on 32,422 acres in Wyoming’s High Desert region could lead to the production of a combined 29 million tons of lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions throughout the development of the lease.

“President Obama has agreed to international goals to avoid the most catastrophic effects of climate change,” said Diana Dascalu-Joffe of the Center for Biological Diversity. “He can prove his commitment to these goals by immediately halting the auction of new fossil fuel leases on public lands.”

The protest raises clear deficiencies with BLM's environmental review of this leasing decision's impact on local air quality, climate change and impacts to species of concern including the greater sage grouse and big game habitat and migration routes.
The groups also contend that the Wyoming state BLM office failed to comply with a recent BLM memo instructing it to prioritize lease sales outside sage grouse habitat above those that offer parcels within the threatened birds' territory.

This 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 several auctions to be canceled or postponed. 

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 (Senate Bill 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 President’s 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.

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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