For Immediate Release, April 19, 2021

Contact:

Maggie Caldwell, Earthjustice, (347) 527-6397, mcaldwell@earthjustice.org
Kyle Tisdel, Western Environmental Law Center, (575) 770-7501, tisdel@westernlaw.org
Taylor McKinnon, Center for Biological Diversity, (801) 300-2414, tmckinnon@biologicaldiversity.org
Courtney Bourgoin, Sierra Club, (248) 214-6682, courtney.bourgoin@sierraclub.org
Liam Kelly, National Parks Conservation Association, (213) 814-8666, lkelly@npca.org
Jeremy Nichols, WildEarth Guardians, (303) 437-7663, jnichols@wildearthguardians.org
Justin Wasser, Earthworks, (202) 753-7016, jwasser@earthworks.org

Coalition Moves to Defend Biden Administration’s Oil, Gas Leasing Pause

CHEYENNE, Wyo.— Farmers and ranchers, conservation, recreation and tribal groups filed motions to intervene today to defend the Biden administration’s pause on federal oil and gas leasing pending the Interior Department’s comprehensive review of the program.

With this action, the groups seek to defend the leasing pause against two lawsuits filed last month by Wyoming and the Western Energy Alliance. The coalition says this is the legal and necessary first step to a long overdue review of the federal leasing program.

Earthjustice and the Western Environmental Law Center filed the motions to intervene on behalf of The Wilderness Society, Diné Citizens Against Ruining Our Environment, Valley Organic Growers Association, Center for Biological Diversity, Citizens for Healthy Community, Wilderness Workshop, Conservation Colorado, Western Watersheds Project, Montana Environmental Information Center, Friends of the Earth, Indian Peoples’ Action, Powder River Basin Resource Council, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, WildEarth Guardians, Sierra Club, Earthworks, Western Organization of Resource Councils, Food & Water Watch, Western Colorado Alliance, Great Old Broads for Wilderness, and the National Parks Conservation Association.

Separately, business groups and other organizations are filing motions to intervene to defend the leasing pause.

“We as a country cannot stand up and say we are doing something about the climate and the biodiversity crisis while our public lands are responsible for a quarter of all U.S. emissions from fossil fuel extraction and burning,” said Michael Freeman, a staff attorney at Earthjustice. “The Biden administration is correctly exercising its legal authority to pause offshore and onshore oil leasing while it undertakes an overdue and necessary review of the current program.”

“The urgency of the climate crisis underscores the need for the federal government to pause oil and gas leasing while it undertakes a comprehensive review of leasing and permitting, and to ensure that public lands management aligns with U.S. climate goals and commitments,” said Kyle Tisdel, staff attorney with the Western Environmental Law Center. “The honest hard look at these climate realities,, as well as the impacts to our communities and legacy of environmental injustice cannot occur if the federal government were forced to simultaneously continue leasing.”

“After decades of runaway climate pollution, pausing to review the federal fossil fuel programs is long overdue,” said Taylor McKinnon, a senior campaigner at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The climate and extinction crises demand bold, urgent action. If the Biden administration’s review is done right, and relies on solid science, it’ll show that new fossil fuel leasing isn’t compatible with the goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.”

“We support the Biden administration’s commonsense move to pause new drilling and fracking on public lands. The leasing program must be fully reviewed to assess its contribution to destructive climate change,” said Eric Huber, Sierra Club managing attorney. “Oil and gas leasing — and the fossil fuel industry’s locking up of millions of acres of public lands in Wyoming and beyond — prevents uses like recreation, tourism and other sustainable economies that benefit communities far more in the long run.”

“The Department of Interior’s actions pause the looting of public resources by developers accumulating excess leases at bargain basement prices,” said Bob LeResche of the Powder River Basin Resource Council in Clearmont, Wyo. “The pause will not harm actual producers, who today hold thousands of acres of undeveloped leased resources. It will give our nation time to rationalize and restructure management of our public energy resources to meet future needs of climate, restoration, multiple use, and revenues.”

“Those of us who live near federal oil and gas development know all too well the ongoing damage this broken system does to our lands, livelihoods, and lungs,” said Barbara Vasquez, a leader with the Western Organization of Resource Councils from Cowdrey, Colorado. “Oil and gas executives are the only ones who currently benefit from the continued mismanagement of publicly owned oil and gas resources. The lease pause is essential to allow this administration to complete the decades-overdue review and overhaul of the program.”

“The federal oil and gas leasing system is not working for Americans and has been recklessly damaging our public lands, national parks and climate,” said Matt Kirby, energy director at the National Parks Conservation Association. “The decision to hit pause on new drilling is a sensible one that prevents further harm and allows the Biden administration time to finally reform this system into one that protects our nation’s most loved places and paves the way towards a clean energy future that benefits all Americans.”

“The Biden-Harris administration’s pause on new leasing and a comprehensive review of the oil and gas program will benefit Western Colorado’s people, wildlife, and public lands. Our years of fighting reckless oil and gas leasing in places like the Thompson Divide and the Roan Plateau have made it clear the current system is deeply broken,” said Peter Hart, a staff attorney at Wilderness Workshop. “We’ll be working with local communities through this reform process to ensure revised regulations work for the American people and benefit public lands, not just for industry.”

“Our nation’s federal oil and gas leasing and permitting program is broken, giving handouts to oil and gas companies who have had an oversized seat at the decision-making table for far too long,” said Ben Tettlebaum, a senior staff attorney at The Wilderness Society. “This leasing pause gives the Interior Department much-needed time to transform how we equitably manage our public lands to combat the climate crisis, while allowing the administration to work with communities to urgently move away from volatile and declining boom-and-bust economies in ways that keep the community and families whole.”

“We can’t confront the climate crisis and keep selling public lands for fracking,” said Jeremy Nichols, climate and energy program director for WildEarth Guardians. “The pause on leasing for oil and gas is critical for ensuring the Biden administration and the Interior Department can ultimately put climate first when it comes to managing public lands and minerals.”

“This pause is a necessary first step toward fulfilling President Biden's promise to end new oil and gas permitting on public lands,” said Aaron Mintzes, senior policy counsel at Earthworks. “Business as usual is causing the climate crisis and poisoning our communities.”

“The leasing pause is not only within the administration’s legal authority, it is an act of desperately needed leadership” said Natasha Léger, executive director of Citizens for a Healthy Community. “A pause on oil and gas leasing is not only common sense, it is the responsible thing to do during the review of an outdated oil and gas leasing and permitting program, which in its current form exploits communities and the American taxpayer, and does nothing to solve the climate, health and ecological crisis we face.”

Background
Fossil fuel production on public lands causes about a quarter of U.S. greenhouse gas pollution. Peer-reviewed science estimates that a nationwide federal fossil fuel leasing ban would reduce carbon emissions by 280 million tons per year, ranking it among the most ambitious federal climate-policy proposals in recent years.

Oil, gas and coal extraction uses mines, well pads, gas lines, roads and other infrastructure that destroys habitat for wildlife, including threatened and endangered species. Oil spills and other harms from offshore drilling have done immense damage to ocean wildlife and coastal communities. Fracking and mining also pollute watersheds and waterways that provide drinking water to millions of people.

Federal fossil fuels that have not been leased to industry contain up to 450 billion tons of potential climate pollution; those already leased to industry contain up to 43 billion tons. Pollution from the world’s already producing oil and gas fields, if fully developed, would push global warming well past 1.5 degrees Celsius.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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