It’s not often the environmental community receives what we ask for without years of pressure, so it’s kind of shocking today that President Obama moved so quickly on our next priority – stopping the sale of fossil fuels from public lands!
In this week’s State of the Union address, he said: "I’m going to push to change the way we manage our oil and coal resources so that they better reflect the costs they impose on taxpayers and our planet."
Just days later, the Interior Department announced it will "comprehensively review federal coal leasing to ensure it provides a fair return to taxpayers and reflect its impacts on the environment." This will take about three years, it says.
We knew the Interior Department was evaluating the pathetically low price coal miners pay to get at the coal under public lands, but we didn’t expect a moratorium on all new coal leases to be announced today!
The moratorium means there will be no new leases, but current leases will be honored – enough coal to supply the US for 20 years. The moratorium will continue until Interior finishes its evaluation of the impacts of these leases. Environmental groups want it extended to ALL fossil leases on land and in water.
Read our article, Disgusting! Eye-Popping Coal Leases Planned on Public Lands.
Apparently, the Obama administration has been considering this for years because allowing our federal lands to be torn up for fossil fuels clearly contadicts US climate policy. Fossil fuel leases on land and in water accounts for 24% of US greenhouse gas emissions and 4% of world emissions, according to Climate Accountability Institute. Coal is responsible for half those emissions.
About 30% of US energy production comes from public land and water, and amazingly, that’s not counted toward US emissions because they are caused by private companies.
That’s about to change. As part of Interior’s analysis, the US Geological Survey will create a public database that measures annual carbon emissions from fossil fuels taken from federal lands.
Pressure Has Been Building
In September, hundreds of organizations sent President Obama a letter urging him to stop new fossil leases. "Federal public lands and waters – such as our national parks, monuments, forests, wildlife refuges and oceans – are cherished resources for us all. They embody deep and diverse cultural values and provide clean air and water, recreation and solitude, and refuge for endangered wildlife."
"For far too long, the Interior Department has given away our publicly-owned fossil fuels to mining and drilling companies without regard for the damage they cause to communities and our climate," says Annie Leonard, Executive Director of Greenpeace USA.
Recent coal sales have averaged a mere $1.03 per ton with damages estimated between $22-$237 a ton, calculates Greenpeace.
Right before the Paris Climate Summit, a major coal auction was planned – and cancelled – because of activist alarms.
"This announcement is another nail in the coffin for the coal industry, and a warning to all fossil fuel companies that the era of unrestrained development is coming to an end," says Jason Kowalski at 350.org. "It’s high time the U.S. government got out of the business of climate destruction. Over the coming months, the president will come under increasing pressure to stop offshore drilling, get tougher on fracking, and end all new fossil fuel leases on our public lands."
Keep It In the Ground Legislation Introduced
In November, Presidential candidate, Senator Bernie Sanders joined other Democrats in introducing the bill, "Keep It In the Ground Act of 2015".
It bans all new fossil fuel development on public lands – coal, oil and gas – and offshore leases in our oceans. And it cancels existing offshore oil and gas leases in the Arctic.
While Republicans and fossil interests moan the continuing "war on coal", it’s yet another example of how they yearn for the past. They don’t acknowledge it, but the Labor Department is helping workers in the industry transition to clean economy jobs.
"The federal coal program is frozen in time in the 1980s. The current rules, which were written when you could still smoke on airplanes and dump sewage in the ocean, neither deliver a fair return to taxpayers nor account for the pollution costs that result from coal mining," says David Hayes, former Interior Department deputy secretary, now at the Center for American Progress.
One of my favorite lines from Obama’s State of the Union speech is: "If anyone still wants to dispute the science around climate change, have at it. You’ll be pretty lonely, because you’ll be debating our military, most of America’s business leaders, the majority of the American people, almost the entire scientific community, and 200 nations around the world who agree it’s a problem and intend to solve it."
"Even if the planet wasn’t at stake; even if 2014 wasn’t the warmest year on record – until 2015 turned out even hotter- why would we want to pass up the chance for American businesses to produce and sell the energy of the future?" That’s renewable energy, NOT fossil fuels.
Read our article, Western Towns Want Coal Miners to Pay for Climate Adaptation for details on how little coal miners pay to dig up our land.