Thursday, November 12, 2015

Obama Should Let Fossil Fuels Lie

PRESIDENT OBAMA’S rejection of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline last week had the ring of a great victory for the environment. But even as he declared the United States a “global leader” in the transition to cleaner energy, he revealed a challenge that neither he nor his administration has confronted: “If we’re going to prevent large parts of this earth from becoming not only inhospitable but uninhabitable in our lifetimes,” the president said, “we’re going to have to keep some fossil fuels in the ground, rather than burn them and release more dangerous pollution into the sky.”

The logic is clear. If we don’t extract them, we can’t burn them. Even better, this is a change the president can actually make, without the approval of Congress. With the climate summit meeting in Paris near, and the Keystone decision fresh, the United States can truly take the lead on these fuels by stemming their production, not just their consumption.

Most climate debates have focused on cutting the use of fossil fuels. But besides a few high-profile scuffles over fuel extraction in vulnerable wild places like the offshore Arctic, political leaders have ignored fossil fuel production as a necessary piece of climate strategy.

...Globally, we will have to use far less of our already proven reserves of oil, gas and coal in the next 35 years if we are to even have a shot at avoiding the most disastrous warming effects. Some say we need to keep a third of the earth’s oil reserves, half its gas and 80 percent of its coal unused. We need to lock up those fuels that would push us past the tipping point. And the most logical place for the United States to start is on our public lands.

About half of all potential future global warming emissions from United States fossil fuels lie in oil, gas and coal buried beneath our public lands, controlled by the federal government and owned by the American people — and not yet leased to private industry for fuel extraction.

...Most of our fuel-bearing federal lands are either beneath the ocean along our coasts or in the interior West, and are largely controlled by the Bureau of Land Management and other federal agencies. This means the White House has the power to end public-lands extraction of fossil fuels. It wouldn’t take an act of Congress — though a bill to do just that, albeit one that won’t get through a Republican-controlled Senate, was recently introduced by Senators Jeff Merkley, Democrat of Oregon, Bernie Sanders, independent of Vermont, and Patrick J. Leahy, Democrat of Vermont. Mr. Obama has the authority, under federal laws like the Mineral Leasing Act and Federal Land Policy and Management Act, to delay and ultimately stop new leasing of fossil fuels on public lands.


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