Merkley, Huffman Lead Charge to Get the Federal Government out of the Fossil Fuel Business

Washington, D.C. – Oregon’s U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley and Representative Jared Huffman (D-CA-2) are leading a bicameral group of 21 lawmakers in introducing the Keep It in the Ground Act—urgent legislation to stop new fossil fuel leases and put an end to nonproducing leases for extraction of coal, oil, gas, oil shale, and tar sands extraction on public lands and in public waters.

The combustion of fossil fuels that have been extracted from America’s public lands and waters currently amount to more than 20 percent of America’s total carbon dioxide emissions.  

“Climate chaos is causing more and more devastating wildfires, violent hurricanes, extreme droughts, and dangerous winter storms—events that are claiming lives, destroying entire communities, threatening livelihoods, and causing billions of dollars in damages. And let’s be clear: the damage targets the pillars of our rural communities—farming, fishing, and forestry. No one is immune from its escalating impacts,” said Senator Merkley, who serves on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee and is a member of the Senate Environmental Justice Caucus. “We need a comprehensive strategy to address climate chaos head-on, and that strategy must include getting the government out of the fossil fuel business. Our public lands and waters belong to all of us—not to fossil fuel executives who want to exploit our health and our kids’ future to get rich. It’s time to keep citizen-owned fossil fuels in the ground where they can’t inflict further harm on all of us.”

“The climate crisis is happening now. Communities across the country are already facing the effects of climate change, and it’s critical we reduce emissions by keeping the world’s remaining fossil fuels in the ground.” said Representative Huffman. “This legislation is one of the most sensible steps the federal government can take to reduce emissions, protect the public, and avoid the most damaging impacts of climate change.” 

“Climate change is an existential crisis and we must do all we can to take it on as soon as humanly possible,” said Senator Sanders. “At a time when we are already seeing the clear costs of inaction on climate change, it is completely absurd that we would be giving away our precious public lands so that the fossil fuel industry can spew out even more carbon pollution. We must aggressively reduce our greenhouse gas emissions and transform our energy system away from fossil fuels and toward renewable energy. There is nothing more important than leaving this country and the entire planet healthy and habitable for our kids and our grandkids, and we must act now.”

“The scientific consensus is clear:  To avert the worst human, economic, and ecological consequences of climate change, we must aggressively reduce carbon emissions and accelerate our national transition to a renewable energy economy,” said Senator Leahy, Chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee.  “The cost of inaction is devastating, and we should reject the false choice between public lands conservation, combating climate change, and job creation.  These commitments are mutually reinforcing.  After four years of giveaways to fossil fuel corporations, this bill will protect public lands for the public good.”

“We must do everything in our power to stand up to the oil industry, protect our coastal and inland communities, and fight for the people from the Jersey Shore to Alaska’s Arctic coastline whose lives and livelihoods are tied to the vitality of the local environment,” said Senator Menendez.  “If we are serious about addressing the climate crisis that threatens us all, then it’s long past time we cut off the spigot to Big Oil on our public lands and in our public waters.”  

“To provide a secure future for the next generation we must tackle the climate crisis today. Ending drilling leases on our public lands will help do just that and will preserve these vital public entities for years to come. The federal government must lead by example and prioritize fighting climate change over the profits of oil and gas,” said Senator Van Hollen.

“There’s no question about it, the climate crisis is here and we are already experiencing the devastating consequences of inaction,” said Senator Alex Padilla. “We cannot sell out our public lands for destructive fossil fuel development that pollutes our air, water, and land.  Transitioning to renewable energy sources that create and keep good-paying jobs in America must be our focus. It’s vital that we act now for the safety of our planet and for future generations.”

The bill’s introduction follows a wide variety of moves taken during the previous administration to worsen the climate crisis by opening up more public waters to oil and gas extraction in the Arctic and Atlantic oceans and making it easier for fossil fuel companies to pollute. President Biden made ending leases a campaign pledge and within the first days of the Biden administration, President Biden issued an executive order pausing the sale of new leases and directing then-Interior Secretary nominee Deb Haaland to evaluate the federal oil and gas leasing system. The Keep It in the Ground Act would make the current pause on leases permanent.

The legislation is endorsed by Sierra Club, Friends of the Earth, Center for Biological Diversity, Food & Water Watch, WildEarth Guardians, Oil Change International, Greenpeace US,, and New York Lawyers for the Public Trust.

Merkley and Huffman were joined in the introduction by U.S. Senators Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), and Alex Padilla (D-CA), and by U.S. Representatives Jamie Raskin (D-MD-08), Jerrold Nadler (D-NY-10), Raúl Grijalva (AZ-03), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC-AL), Earl Blumenauer (D-OR-03), Mondaire Jones (D-NY-17), Emanuel Cleaver (D-MO-05), Jahana Hayes (D-CT-05), William Keating (D-MA-09), Ro Khanna (D-CA-17), Nanette Diaz Barragán (D-CA-44), Cori Bush (D-MO-01), Carolyn Maloney (D-NY-12), Jan Schakowsky D-(Il-09), and Pramila Jayapal (D-WA-07).

Full text of the legislation is available here.