Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR) introduced legislation today that will help advance the fight against dangerous climate change, preserve our natural heritage, and send a long-term signal that the United States is committed to a clean energy future and is not going to empower the fossil fuel industry to bet on climate failure. The legislation would stop the expansion of fossil fuel extraction on all federal lands and waters by ending new leasing and renewals of non-producing leases for oil, coal, and gas. It was cosponsored by Senators Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Kirstin Gillibrand (D-NY), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA).
The bill's message is as simple as it is powerful: the policy of the United States should no longer be to turn over more of its public estate--held in the people's trust--to the oil and mining industry so it can expand into ever new areas to dig for more fossil fuels that are driving dangerous climate change.
As NRDC President Rhea Suh stated in support of the bill:
"Phasing out coal, gas and oil production on our federal lands and waters must be part of our broader strategy to shift from dirty fuels that drive climate change to clean energy that powers our future without threatening our kids. The Merkley bill puts us on track for the orderly transition we need. It deserves our full support.
"Condemning public waters and lands to oil, gas and coal exploitation far into the future only locks our children and grandchildren into dependence on the very fuels that are driving climate chaos. We need to protect future generations from the growing dangers of this widening scourge, not sentence them to even greater damage and risk.
"That means prioritizing renewable energy, where appropriate, on our federal lands, and moving beyond the dirty fuels of the past. This is about aligning public resources with the public interest, protecting our waters, wildlife and lands and striking a blow against the central environmental and health challenge of our time."
As a nation we are already on the path to clean energy. We're investing in efficiency, so we do more with less waste. We're getting more power from clean energy sources like the wind and sun. And we're driving cars that burn less fuel.
We're also leading the world in a call to work together to make lasting, firm commitments that ensure we leave our children a livable planet.
Phasing out coal, oil and gas development on federal lands and waters is another part of this broader strategy to move beyond the dirty fuels of the past before the window to address climate change closes. Current extraction of fossil fuel from federal lands and waters accounts for nearly one-fourth of all emissions in the United States. Yet the fossil fuel industry continues to be granted preferential access to publicly owned resources, even as the science tells us we have already discovered far more fossil fuels than can ever be burned if we are serious about avoiding the worst impacts of climate change.
Senator Merkley's legislation would replace this vicious cycle with a virtuous circle, simultaneously preserving our public lands and waters, curtailing long-term investment in fossil fuel use, and accelerating the transition to clean energy. It sends a long-term market and political signal that the United States believes there is a better way to power the future. That we don't need to keep despoiling our last remaining pristine oceans and landscapes because decades from now our children will be fueling their homes, cars, and economy with clean, renewable energy, not coal, oil, and gas.
We've made that commitment as a nation and called on global leaders to do the same. Senator Merkley, Sanders, and Cardin's legislation represents a challenge to align our public resource management with that vision. And it's a proposal that all our elected leaders should embrace.