Rep. Jared Huffman (D-CA) introduced the Keep It in the Ground Act on Thursday. Under the bill, there would be no new leases for extraction of fossil fuels — such as coal, oil, and gas — on all federal lands. It would also stop new leases for offshore drilling in the Pacific and the Gulf of Mexico and prohibit offshore drilling in the Atlantic and Arctic Oceans.
“This is a response to a real outpouring of support for this cause that I have seen, not just from my constituents on the north coast of California, but really from all over the country,” Huffman told reporters during a call Thursday. “We’ve got to get much more aggressive in this fight against climate change, because we know what we put off today will only make the cost and the damage greater for our children tomorrow.”
The bill has 17 Democratic cosponsors in the House and is a companion bill to one introduced in the fall in the Senate. “I think the only remaining climate deniers in America are my Republican colleagues in the United States Congress,” Huffman quipped.
Environmental groups joined Huffman during the announcement to applaud the bill’s introduction.
“The bill that was introduced today is one of the more thoughtful and prudent approaches to addressing the climate challenge that we’ve ever seen,” said Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club.
Stopping fossil fuels coming from public lands will likely be critical to decreasing U.S. emissions. According to a Center for American Progress and Wilderness Society report, oil, coal, and gas extracted on federally-owned lands and in U.S. waters contribute more than 20 percent of the country’s total greenhouse gas emissions.
He credited community activists, business leaders, and others across the country with pushing for more climate-aware decisions, including the denial of TransCanada’s permit application for the proposed Keystone XL pipeline.
“Our movement is more powerful than it ever has been. Our elected officials are responding to that with more ambitious policies,” he said. “It can really change the conversation here in Washington.”
Climate activist and founder of 350.org, Bill McKibben also took part in the call, saying it is critical to stop extracting fossil fuels overall.
“We have no more margin, and that’s what this bill recognizes,” McKibben said on the same call Thursday.
Indeed, scientists predict that the vast majority of the fossil fuels remaining below ground must stay there if humankind has any chance of avoiding the most catastrophic and deadly effects of climate change. For instance, more than 90 percent of U.S. coal would have to stay in the ground through 2050 to reduce carbon emissions enough to stay below 2°C warming, experts say.
Last month, the Obama Administration announced that it was stopping new coal leases on federal lands, pending a review of how royalties are calculated.
During the call Thursday, Huffman also mentioned the recent Supreme Court decision to stay the Administration’s Clean Power Plan rule, saying that despite the court’s action, more and more people are advocating for action on climate and catalyzing change.
“I hope [the stay] will only be a speed bump,” Huffman said. “I think it will underscore the importance of all of our other efforts.”