President Obama has at his disposal right now several tools with which he could keep an amount of greenhouse gases equivalent to the annual emissions of 118,000 coal-fired power plants out of the atmosphere, according to a new report from the Center for Biological Diversity.
Executive authorities granted to the president under three federal laws that govern the extraction of federally controlled fossil fuel resources — the Federal Land Policy and Management Act, the Mineral Leasing Act and the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act — give President Obama the authority to prevent billions of tons of greenhouse gases from being pumped into the atmosphere without needing to go through Congress.
Fossil fuels produced on federal lands make an enormous contribution to total US emissions. A study by the Climate Accountability Institute found that as much as one-fourth of all US greenhouse gas emissions between 2003 and 2014 were the result of fossil fuels extracted from public lands by private industry.
In pursuit of its “all of the above” energy strategy, the Obama administration has leased more than 35 million acres of federal public lands and oceans to the fossil fuel industry since 2008, the report notes. More than 67 million acres of federal land and ocean containing as much as 43 billion tons of potential CO2 emissions have already been leased to the fossil fuel industry.
“President Obama has the power to take a giant leap toward tackling the climate crisis by ending new leases for drilling, mining and fracking on our public lands,” lead author Michael Saul of the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) said in a statement emailed to DeSmog.
“It’s not enough to just regulate tail pipes and smokestacks — new production needs to be phased out too. President Obama can do that now, under existing law, by ending new fossil fuel leases on our public lands and in our oceans.”
Saul and his co-authors conclude in the report that the president has “broad authority” under existing federal law to “defer and ultimately prohibit new leasing of federal fossil fuels onshore and offshore.”
Last month, CBD and Friends of the Earth released the results of a study they commissioned from EcoShift that found more than 90 percent of federally owned fossil fuels have yet to be leased. By putting a stop to new leases, President Obama could prevent an estimated 450 billion tons of potential greenhouse gas pollution.
But if the Obama Administration wanted to truly rein in emissions from federal lands, it would also have to address emissions from lands already leased.
Earlier this year, a report by the Center for American Progress and The Wilderness Society identified “a blind spot in U.S. efforts to address climate change” — despite the fact that emissions from fossil fuels extracted from federally controlled land are equivalent to putting 280 million more cars on the road, the US Department Of the Interior has no comprehensive plan to monitor and reduce those emissions.
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