Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, November 14, 2016

Contact:  Michael Saul, Center for Biological Diversity, (303) 915-8308,

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

BLM Fails to Weigh Climate Impact, Raises Risk for Imperiled Wildflowers, Black-footed Ferret

VERNAL, Utah— Conservation groups filed a formal administrative protest today challenging a Bureau of Land Management plan to auction off more than 12,000 acres of publicly owned fossil fuels in northeast Utah. The protest cites concerns over air and water pollution, fracking and potential harm to imperiled species ­— including the black-footed ferret and Graham’s and white river beardtongues ­— and the BLM’s failure to consider the auction’s impact on climate change.

“It’s simply irresponsible for the BLM to issue new fossil fuel leases on public lands without considering the impact that extracting and burning these new sources of dirty energy will have on the climate,” said Michael Saul, a senior attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity. “Given the recent election result, the Obama administration should move immediately to halt new leasing on public lands to preserve his climate legacy.”

The protest calls on the Bureau to halt new leasing of fossil fuels in the proposed area, asks that the Bureau’s Nov. 15 auction be postponed and that, at least, the agency remove parcels along the Green River and those that contain habitat for endangered plants and animals. These areas proposed for leasing include important recreational destinations and wildlands, habitat for two rare wildflowers, the Graham’s and White River beardtongues (subject to a recent court decision reopening the question of their need for Endangered Species Act protection), and white-tailed prairie colonies that could provide habitat for reintroduced black-footed ferrets, North America’s most endangered mammal.

Groups protesting the lease auction include the Center for Biological Diversity, Utah Rivers Council, the Sierra Club,  Western Watersheds Project, Living Rivers and Colorado Riverkeeper.

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. A 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 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.

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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