Merkley Introduces Major New Legislation to Stop New Fossil Fuel Leases on Federal Lands

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Oregon’s Senator Jeff Merkley—joined by leading environmental advocates—introduced the Keep It in the Ground Act, major new legislation to help accelerate the transition to clean energy by ending all new federal leases for oil, gas or coal extraction on public lands and waters.

“Climate change is already impacting our world through greater forest fires and droughts, with serious effects on our farming, fishing and forest economies. The main cause is carbon pollution, and the impacts will only get worse in the coming decades if we keep burning fossil fuels unchecked,” said Merkley. “One key part of the solution is lying literally beneath our feet. A major contribution to this challenge would be stopping new fossil fuel leases on our public lands that lock in oil, gas and coal extraction for decades into the future. Our public lands should be managed for the public good, not for private profit.

“We, together, must accelerate the transition from a fossil fuel economy to a clean energy economy,” continued Merkley. “In doing so, we will create huge numbers of good paying jobs. But we need to make sure that we don’t leave any of our workers behind. They’ve spent their lives providing the energy that has fueled tremendous growth in our economy, often at the expense of their health and wellbeing. This must not be a green versus blue transition, but a green and blue movement, working together, side by side.”

“We are taking on the Koch brothers and some of the most powerful political forces in the world who are more concerned with short-term profits than the future of the planet,” said Senator Bernie Sanders. “I’ve got four kids and I’ve got seven beautiful grandchildren. We have a moral responsibility to leave our kids a planet that is healthy and inhabitable.”

Specifically, the Keep It in the Ground Act would:

  •  Stop new leases and end nonproducing leases for offshore drilling in the Pacific and Gulf of Mexico.
  • Stop new and end nonproducing coal, oil, gas, oil shale and tar sands leases on all federal lands.
  • Prohibit offshore drilling in the Arctic and the Atlantic.

This combination of actions would keep over 90 percent of the potential carbon emissions from oil, gas and coal on our federal lands and federal waters from being emitted into the atmosphere and contributing to climate change.

Putting our citizen-owned reserves off-limits would be a significant step toward taking action on carbon pollution and would constitute a new demonstration of American leadership on the global stage. 

The legislation is cosponsored by Sens. Ben Cardin (D-MD), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA).

What They’re Saying About the Keep It in the Ground Act

Bill McKibben, Co-Founder,

“At once both visionary and the epitome of common sense, this legislation is crucial to slowing the rise of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and hence the overheating of the Earth.” 

Aaron Mair, President, Sierra Club:

“Thanks to Senator Merkley’s bold leadership, Congress can work to take the next step in the fight against climate change: leaving dirty fuels in the only safe place for them — the ground.”

Rhea Suh, President, Natural Resources Defense Council:

“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.

Gene Karpinski, President, League of Conservation Voters:

“We have a moral obligation to do everything we can to cut carbon pollution and protect our public lands, and that means we need an all-hands-on-deck effort to accelerate our transition from dirty to clean energy.  We commend Senator Merkley for his longtime leadership in this fight and for this bold legislation which is a clear departure from the dirty energy policies of the past and moves us toward an economy increasingly powered by clean energy.”

Margie Alt, Executive Director, Environment America: 

“We’re already experiencing dangerous consequences of climate change — from drought, to superstorms, to rising seas — and scientists are clear that to avoid even more catastrophic impacts, we must transition to 100 percent clean, renewable energy. We simply can’t continue to drill, mine and burn more fossil fuels while global warming passes the point of no return. Sen. Merkley’s bill will protect our beaches, the fragile Arctic, and some of our most treasured natural areas — all while keeping dirty fuels in the ground where they belong.” 

Kieran Suckling, Executive Director, Center for Biological Diversity:

“U.S. climate policy must curb fossil fuel supply as well as demand. Regulating smokestacks and tailpipes isn’t enough; fossil fuels that are extracted will be burned. The natural place to start phasing out supply is on our public lands and oceans where a ban on new leasing will keep up to 450 billion tons of carbon pollution in the ground.” 

Wenonah Hauter, Executive Director, Food & Water Watch

“The Keep It in the Ground Act is an important step in the fight against climate change. The urgency of transitioning to a clean energy future means we cannot continue to extract fossil fuels, especially through inherently dangerous processes such as fracking, from our public lands, both onshore and offshore. Yesterday, we joined more than 1,250 groups from across the world to call on President Obama and other world leaders attending the Paris climate talks to ban fracking and transition to a renewable energy future.”

Marissa Knodel, Climate Campaigner, Friends of the Earth:

“The group of Senators sponsoring this bill are demonstrating true climate leadership when we need it most. The Keep It in the Ground Act of 2015 sets the bar for what the U.S. can and should achieve in the global fight to prevent climate catastrophe.”