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BAKERSFIELD, Calif. November 9, 2020 — On behalf of 10 conservation, environmental justice, health and community groups today, the Center for Biological Diversity filed protest comments against the Bureau of Land Management’s plans to lease California federal public land to oil and gas companies for the first time in eight years.
The move is the latest challenge to the planned lease auction. Last month the Bureau announced it would move forward with the sale in Kern County despite receiving nearly 35,000 comments and an opposition letter signed by more than 85 community and advocacy groups.
“We’re not going to let the Trump administration sell off our beautiful public lands for oil execs to drill and frack their way to climate catastrophe,” said Kassie Siegel, director of the Center’s Climate Law Institute. “The accelerating climate crisis means more heat waves, fires, floods and suffering unless we keep fossil fuels in the ground where they belong, including on our public lands.”
Threats to climate, air quality and public health hit close to home for residents of the county.
“Kern County is an epicenter for climate change. With thousands of oil wells polluting our air with particulate matter and greenhouse gases, we cannot afford to sell our public lands to these contamination producers,” said Cesar Aguirre, a Kern resident and community organizer for the Central California Environmental Justice Network. “We suffer from the worst air quality in the nation while polluters extract our resources at the cost of public health. It’s irresponsible to continue incentivizing dirty extraction that leads to spills like the Cymric oil spill, especially when these polluters will find ways to profit from leaks rather than fixing them to protect our lungs and environment.”
In December 2019 the Trump administration made a final decision to allow oil drilling and fracking across more than 1 million acres of federal public land in California. Ongoing legal action has challenged the decision, citing the Bureau’s failure to adequately assess environmental, health and safety harms associated with fracking.
Parcels up for lease include land within an Area of Critical Environmental Concern and land neighboring Carrizo Plain National Monument. Drilling here could threaten already endangered species, including the San Joaquin kit fox and California condor.
“The Trump administration is disregarding science and the voice of our communities to cater to the oil industry,” said Rebecca August, director of advocacy with Los Padres ForestWatch. “Sacrificing precious water supplies, public health and threatened and endangered animals that depend on protected land for survival, only to pollute our air and further damage our climate, is unacceptable and certainly not in the public interest.”
The lease sale is currently scheduled for next month.
Fossil fuel production on public lands causes about a quarter of U.S. greenhouse gas pollution. Peer-reviewed science estimates that a nationwide federal fossil fuel leasing ban would reduce carbon emissions by 280 million tons per year, ranking it among the most ambitious federal climate-policy proposals in recent years.
Federal fossil fuels that have not been leased to industry contain up to 450 billion tons of potential climate pollution; those already leased to industry contain up to 43 billion tons. Pollution from already-leased fossil fuels on federal lands, if fully developed, would essentially exhaust the U.S. carbon budget for staying below warming of 1.5 degrees Celsius.
Existing laws give Congress and presidents the authority to end new federal fossil fuel leasing. Hundreds of organizations have already petitioned the federal government to end new onshore and offshore leasing.
The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.
Central California Environmental Justice Network has been promoting environmental justice in the San Joaquin Valley since 2000. Our mission is to preserve our natural resources by seeking to minimize or eliminate environmental degradation in the San Joaquin Valley. CCEJN focuses on advancing community resilience in disadvantaged communities by increasing the level of recognition of adverse health effects caused by pollution and serving as a hub for environmental activism in the Central Valley.
Los Padres ForestWatch is a local nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting wildlife, wilderness landscapes, watersheds, and outdoor recreation opportunities throughout the Los Padres National Forest and the adjacent Carrizo Plain National Monument.