Senate Democrats float bill to stop fossil fuel production on federal lands

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., and Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said Nov. 4 that they have introduced 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.

“Worry less about your campaign contributions and worry more about your children and grandchildren,” Sanders told Republicans who say climate change is not a man-made phenomena. “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. 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.”

Sanders, incidentally, is a leading Democratic candidate for president, though he continues to use “Independent” for his political party affiliation related to this Senate seat.

“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 have a moral responsibility to confront the reality of climate change, and the science is clear that the cost to our land, our communities and our climate of continued federal fossil fuel leasing is far too high,” Leahy said. “We cannot tackle our carbon emissions if we continue to violate our public lands and our climate with more drilling for fossil fuels. This is a commonsense step forward to addressing a global crisis that is at our doorstep.”

Their “Keep It in the Ground Act” would stop corporations from starting new fossil fuels projects on all federal lands and waters. The bill prohibits offshore drilling in the Arctic and the Atlantic and stops new leases and ends non-producing leases for offshore drilling in the Pacific and Gulf of Mexico. It also stops new leases and non-producing leases for coal, oil, gas, oil shale and tar sands on all federal lands.

The bill is also co-sponsored by Sens. Ben Cardin, D-Md., Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., and Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass.

This bill probably isn’t going anywhere in the GOP-controlled Senate, especially since a few Democrats, like Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, usually cross party lines to support fossil fuels. In Manchin’s case, that support is mostly for his home-state coal industry.

About Barry Cassell 20414 Articles
Barry Cassell is Chief Analyst for GenerationHub covering coal and emission controls issues, projects and policy. He has covered the coal and power generation industry for more than 24 years, beginning in November 2011 at GenerationHub and prior to that as editor of SNL Energy’s Coal Report. He was formerly with Coal Outlook for 15 years as the publication’s editor and contributing writer, and prior to that he was editor of Coal & Synfuels Technology and associate editor of The Energy Report. He has a bachelor’s degree from Central Michigan University.