We commend Sens. Patrick Leahy and Bernie Sanders in joining the bid to get the federal government out of the fossil-fuel business.

The Keep It in the Ground Act stops new drilling leases to preventing the climate crisis from spiraling further out of control.

Oregon’s U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley and Rep. Jared Huffman, a California Democrat, are leading a bicameral group of 21 lawmakers in introducing the act — called “urgent legislation to stop new fossil fuel leases and put an end to nonproducing leases for extraction of coal, oil, gas, oil shale and tar sands extraction on public lands and in public waters.”

The combustion of fossil fuels that have been extracted from America’s public lands and waters currently amount to more than 20% of America’s total carbon dioxide emissions.

According to Merkley, who serves on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee and is a member of the Senate Environmental Justice Caucus: “Climate chaos is causing more and more devastating wildfires, violent hurricanes, extreme droughts and dangerous winter storms — events that are claiming lives, destroying entire communities, threatening livelihoods, and causing billions of dollars in damages. And let’s be clear: The damage targets the pillars of our rural communities — farming, fishing and forestry. No one is immune from its escalating impacts.”

Here in Vermont, we have seen more extreme weather events over the last decade, including Tropical Storm Irene and violent storms — among them tornado-like conditions just a few weeks ago. We have seen warmer winters, as well as signs across the state’s ecosystem that climate change is a viable threat to our tourism economy.

“We need a comprehensive strategy to address climate chaos head-on, and that strategy must include getting the government out of the fossil fuel business. Our public lands and waters belong to all of us — not to fossil fuel executives who want to exploit our health and our kids’ future to get rich. It’s time to keep citizen-owned fossil fuels in the ground where they can’t inflict further harm on all of us,” Merkley was quoted as saying. “The climate crisis is happening now. Communities across the country are already facing the effects of climate change, and it’s critical we reduce emissions by keeping the world’s remaining fossil fuels in the ground.” said Rep. Huffman. “This legislation is one of the most sensible steps the federal government can take to reduce emissions, protect the public, and avoid the most damaging impacts of climate change.”

Sanders, a longtime advocate for climate-change legislation, was quoted this week as saying, “Climate change is an existential crisis, and we must do all we can to take it on as soon as humanly possible. … At a time when we are already seeing the clear costs of inaction on climate change, it is completely absurd that we would be giving away our precious public lands so that the fossil fuel industry can spew out even more carbon pollution. We must aggressively reduce our greenhouse gas emissions and transform our energy system away from fossil fuels and toward renewable energy. There is nothing more important than leaving this country and the entire planet healthy and habitable for our kids and our grandkids, and we must act now.”

Leahy, chairman of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee, said, “The scientific consensus is clear: To avert the worst human, economic, and ecological consequences of climate change, we must aggressively reduce carbon emissions and accelerate our national transition to a renewable energy economy. … The cost of inaction is devastating, and we should reject the false choice between public lands conservation, combating climate change, and job creation. These commitments are mutually reinforcing. After four years of giveaways to fossil fuel corporations, this bill will protect public lands for the public good.”

The bill’s introduction follows a variety of moves taken during the previous administration to worsen the climate crisis by opening up more public waters to oil and gas extraction in the Arctic and Atlantic oceans and making it easier for fossil fuel companies to pollute.

President Joe Biden made ending leases a campaign pledge and within the first days of his administration. He issued an executive order pausing the sale of new leases and directed then-Interior Secretary nominee Deb Haaland to evaluate the federal oil and gas leasing system. The Keep It in the Ground Act would make the current pause on leases permanent.

We join the endorsements of the Sierra Club, Friends of the Earth, Center for Biological Diversity, Food & Water Watch, WildEarth Guardians, Oil Change International, Greenpeace US and 350.org.

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