Legislation would marginalize public input on offshore fossil fuel leases
WASHINGTON, D.C. — The U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Natural Resources will vote on a bill today that could alter the longstanding practice of holding offshore fossil fuel lease sales in person and instead relegate them to an internet-based system. Proposed under the guise of efficiency, the switch will marginalize public input and comes amid rising public pressure to end new oil and gas leasing on public lands and oceans in the face of the growing climate crisis.
The House Committee on Natural Resources is scheduled to vote on House Resolution 5577 at 10 a.m. today.
A coalition of community-based groups from the Gulf Coast and Alaska, supported by national allies, sent a letter strongly opposing the bill, warning that the change would threaten wildlife, coastal communities and the climate.
“Government leasing decisions must be as transparent and accountable to the American people as possible. This can only be ensured by allowing the public to openly and directly participate in every step of the leasing process, from the environmental review to the sale itself,” reads the letter from 23 groups.
Gulf Coast residents this year launched an unprecedented effort to demand no new leases in the Gulf of Mexico. They were joined by groups who have been waging a national “Keep It in the Ground” campaign calling for an end to new fossil fuels leases on federal lands and waters at a large demonstration on March 23 in New Orleans. At the Superdome hundreds joined a boisterous demonstration against expanding offshore drilling. Another offshore lease sale is scheduled for New Orleans on Aug. 24, and significant protests are being organized.
“If Representative Graves and other congressmen were acting on behalf of regular people, they would introduce a bill to make the oil industry pay for its century of destruction along the Gulf Coast,” said Anne Rolfes, founding director of the Louisiana Bucket Brigade. “Instead it’s business as usual — protecting Big Oil at the expense of the public.”
“The people of the Gulf South who live, work and play along the Gulf of Mexico are ready to transition into clean energy sources that lessen impacts to the environment, create a sustainable job market, and protect human and non-human health,” said Mary Gutierrez, executive director of Earth Ethics, Inc. “We will no longer allow big industry or the government to dictate the type of energy source we want for our communities. We want our voices heard. We have a responsibility to advocate for and implement changes. We are ready to accept those responsibilities. We are ready for action.”
“How are indigenous communities closest to federal oil and gas land leases going to participate in what’s supposed to be a public process? The answer is: They won’t be able to,” said Dallas Goldtooth of the Indigenous Environmental Network. “This bill is nothing but a farce pandering to the interests of Big Oil and Gas. All dealings of federal land leases must remain physically public to ensure transparency and equity for remote indigenous communities.”
“People are demanding climate action and an end to offshore drilling, fracking, oil spills, and treating coastal communities like sacrifice zones. This is a vibrant, growing movement that deserves to be heard,” said Blake Kopcho, a Center for Biological Diversity organizer who has been working with groups in the Gulf. “If we’re going to sell off public resources and worsen the climate crisis, the decisions should be made out in the open, in the bright light of day and with the full participation of the American public.”
“New fossil fuel leasing is wrong for people and the planet. Moving lease sales online will only make it easier for fossil fuel companies to get away with turning our public lands and waters into energy sacrifice zones,” said Marissa Knodel, climate campaigner at Friends of the Earth. “Across the nation, the movement to keep fossil fuels in the ground is gaining strength and momentum. Congress must listen to the voices of the people calling for a safe climate future and just transition to a renewable energy economy, not the fossil fuel industry.”