President Biden expected to order halt to selling public lands and waters for fossil fuel extraction this week

With the election of President Joe Biden, hopes are high that he follows through with his campaign promise to ban fossil fuels on public lands and waters in the United States, but we’re leaving nothing to chance as we continue to build momentum for the President to take bold climate action.

Bringing the People Power

Our campaign to keep fossil fuels in the ground on public lands and waters began in earnest way back in 2015, when we helped galvanize a coalition to take action to hold President Obama accountable to bold climate action.

Our aim? Put an end to selling public lands and waters for offshore drilling, onshore fracking, and massive coal strip mining.

At the end of 2016, we stepped up the pressure on the Obama Administration more than ever, delivering the message straight to the U.S. Department of the Interior, which oversees fossil fuel development in much of the U.S.

While the past four years have seen unprecedented giveaways to the fossil fuels industry and assaults on public lands, we’ve kept up the action. Even in the face of the Trump administration’s blatant disregard of climate, communities, and justice, we’ve continued our protests to keep fossil fuels in the ground and put climate first.

With the election of Joe Biden as President, new hope has emerged for our climate, but keeping the pressure up is more critical than ever.

Shortly after the election, we put out the call for action to ensure the President-elect followed through with his commitment for ban on fossil fuels, circulating a petition that so far has received more than 10,000 signatures!

In December, we joined more than 500 other groups in calling on then President-elect Biden to follow through with his commitment to take action on federal fossil fuels, calling for the signing of an executive order to ban new leasing and permitting on public lands and waters.

And this week, environmental justice, Indigenous, climate and conservation groups from across the country delivered millions of petitions and public comments, and letters from hundreds of organizations, supporting a halt on new fossil fuel leasing and permitting on public lands and oceans.

We know that President Biden is facing enormous lobbying from the fossil fuel industry to back down. It’s up to us to ensure the President overcomes this influence and stays true to his commitments.

Upping the Legal Pressure

Our efforts to build people power come as WildEarth Guardians is stepping up unprecedented legal pressure to ensure President Biden delivers on his promises.

Earlier this month, we filed a new lawsuit to overturn the Trump administration’s sale of more than one million acres of public lands for fracking in the American West, aiming to ensure the new administration follows through with bold action keep fossil fuels in the ground.

The lawsuit is the latest in a series of legal actions challenging the Trump administration for selling public lands for fracking in violation of federal environmental laws and climate science.

Just last week, on behalf of WildEarth Guardians and a coalition of plaintiffs, the Western Environmental Law Center filed an amended lawsuit to overturn the sale of nearly 45,000 acres of public lands in New Mexico’s Greater Chaco region.

Also this month, WildEarth Guardians, the Montana Environmental Information Center, Waterkeeper Alliance, Sierra Club, Center for Biological Diversity, and the Western Environmental Law Center filed suit to overturn the sale of nearly 60,000 acres of public lands in Montana.

Oh, and WildEarth Guardians also called on a federal appeals court to block the sale of nearly 70,000 acres of public lands in New Mexico.

The lawsuits come as numerous court rulings have rejected the Trump administration’s efforts to sell off millions of acres of public lands to the oil and gas industry without addressing the climate consequences of drilling and burning enormous quantities of fossil fuels. These wins include:

As we call on President Biden to take action, these legal efforts will ensure that one way or another, the administration will have no choice but to confront the climate consequences of selling public lands to the fossil fuel industry.

Light at the End of the Tunnel?

All this advocacy has set the state for President Biden to follow through with bold climate action and this week, he’s expected to issue an Executive Order that imposes a ban on fossil fuels.

While the details haven’t been released, suffice it to say, January 27, 2021 will go down in history as a watershed moment for climate action. President Biden’s Order promises to mark the first time the U.S. federal government commits to getting out of the business of selling fossil fuels and into the business of putting climate and justice first.

In the meantime, an Indigenous led coalition is upping the call for the President to not just Build Back Better, but Build Back Fossil Free. Just tonight, the coalition held an amazing digital rally on January 26 that you can watch here >>

Science supports winding down and ultimately phasing out fossil fuel production as an essential strategy to confronting the climate crisis. The law supports accountability to pausing federal fossil fuel leasing. And morality supports ensuring a just transition from fossil fuels in America.

We’ll see what President Biden announces this week, but whatever happens, we’re sure it will be a watershed moment for U.S. action to confront the climate crisis.

Jeremy Nichols

About the Author

Jeremy Nichols | Climate and Energy Program Director, WildEarth Guardians

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