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Historic Petition Urges Obama to Halt All New Offshore Fossil Fuel Leases

Turtle Island Restoration Network joined the Center for Biological Diversity in backing a legal petition to end new ocean-drilling.

For Immediate Release, March 29, 2016

Historic Petition Urges Obama to Halt All New Offshore Fossil Fuel Leases

More Than 45 Organizations Back Historic Legal Petition That Takes Aim at Ocean-drilling Damage to Climate, Wildlife, Communities

WASHINGTON— More than 45 climate, conservation, indigenous and coastal organizations (including Turtle Island) representing the major coastal regions of the United States filed a legal petition today calling on President Obama to align U.S. energy policy with his climate goals by issuing an executive order to end new oil and gas lease auctions in federally controlled oceans — including the Arctic, Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico.

The order, under the authority of the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act, would make federally managed waters that have not already been leased to industry unavailable for new leases. Halting new fossil fuel leases on more than 1 billion acres off America’s coasts would keep up to 62 billion tons of carbon emissions in the ground — the pollution equivalent of more than 16,000 coal-fired power plants.

The order would be a step toward limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, consistent with the 2015 Paris Agreement, by preventing the leasing of new offshore oil and gas. To stay within the 1.5 degree limit, the vast majority of known fossil fuels must remain unburned and kept safely in the ground.

The petition, led by the Center for Biological Diversity, and signed by Turtle Island comes on the heels of the administration’s proposed five-year plan governing future federal offshore oil and gas leasing. The proposal would expand leasing in the Arctic and Gulf of Mexico, risking more disastrous spills, putting wildlife and communities in harm’s way and deepening U.S. dependence on the fossil fuels that are driving the global climate crisis.

Despite its name, leases outlined in the five-year program would allow for oil and gas production over the next 40 to 70 years, long past the point that scientists say fossil fuels should be phased out. Continuing to rely on fossil fuels decades into the future undermines a rapid and essential transition to renewable energy. The petition calls on President Obama to align federal leasing policy with U.S. climate change goals while promoting a rapid transition to a clean energy economy, starting with a halt in offshore leasing.

Groups joining today’s petition are Turtle Island Restoration Network, the Center for Biological Diversity, Food and Water Watch, Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, Oil Change International, Rainforest Action Network, Waterkeeper Alliance, Alaska Inter-Tribal Council, Alaska Rising Tide, Altamaha Riverkeeper, Apalachicola Riverkeeper, Assateague Coastal Trust, Atchafalaya Basinkeeper, Cahaba Riverkeeper, California Coastal Protection Network, Chesapeake Climate Action Network, Clean Ocean Action, Cook Inletkeeper, Courage Campaign, Crystal Coast Waterkeeper, Emerald Coastkeeper, Environmental Defense Center, Environmental Youth Council, Eyak Preservation Council, Friends of Matanzas, Gulf Restoration Network, Institute for Fisheries Resources, Kootenai Environmental Alliance, Living Rivers, Louisiana Bucket Brigade, Matanzas Waterkeeper, Miami Waterkeeper, Native Conservancy (Land Trust), Ocean Conservation Research, Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations, Preserve Our Wildlife, Prince William Soundkeeper, Resisting Environmental Destruction on Indigenous Lands (REDOIL), Riverkeeper, Sea Turtle Oversight Protection, Seneca Lake Guardian, Suncoast Waterkeeper, Wabash Riverkeeper Network, Whale and Dolphin Conservation, WILDCOAST and WildEarth Guardians.

Download the petition.

Background
The American public owns nearly 650 million acres of federal public land, and more than 1.7 billion acres of Outer Continental Shelf (the oceans between 3 and 200 miles off the coast) — and the fossil fuels beneath them. This includes sensitive oceans and coastlines, including Alaska’s Chukchi Sea, the Gulf of Mexico and the Eastern Seaboard. These places and fossil fuels, held in trust for the public by the federal government, are administered by the Department of the Interior for potential leasing.

Over the past decade, the combustion of federal fossil fuels has resulted in nearly a quarter of all U.S. energy-related emissions. An August 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. Burning the recoverable oil and gas under federal waters would release 61.5 billion tons of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, the equivalent of driving 13 billion passenger cars for one year. As of this year, 67 million acres of public fossil fuels were already leased to industry, an area more than 55 times larger than Grand Canyon National Park and containing up to 43 billion tons of potential greenhouse gas pollution.

Last year Sens. Merkley (D-Ore.), Sanders (D-Vt.) and others introduced legislation to end issuance of new 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 a letter from more than 400 groups and climate leaders urging President Obama to halt new federal fossil fuel leasing.

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).

Download The Potential Greenhouse Gas Emissions fact sheet.

Download Public Lands, Private Profits (this report details the corporations profiting from climate-destroying fossil fuel extraction on public lands).

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 990,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.