The Obama Administration is on a roll lately. First, the President proclaimed the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks a National Monument, and then the EPA proposed ambitious new standards for carbon emissions from power plants. Just a few days ago, the Denver Post reported that the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) issued a moratorium blocking oil, gas and coal leasing on 800,000 acres of public land in southwestern Colorado and eastern Utah.
This land is home to the Gunnison sage grouse, a type of bird that lives in southwest Colorado and southeast Utah. Due to habitat loss, the population of Gunnison sage grouse has been reduced to approximately 4,500 – about one-tenth of its original size.
The moratorium described in the BLM memo prevents agency officials from offering and selling new leases, and requires that land-use plans be updated. Given that almost a quarter of our country’s annual carbon dioxide emissions currently originate from federally managed oil, gas, and coal production, keeping dirty fuels in the ground is a major part of addressing climate disruption.
As outlined in a recent report by the Sierra Club, developing just a few of the major potential sources of carbon pollution under our public lands, could dramatically alter the world's climate and more than negate other positive climate action. Decisions, like that of the BLM, to keep these dirty fuels in the ground are a necessary piece of an effective climate strategy.
BLM’s decision protects our nation’s open spaces from fossil fuel extraction, safeguards vital habitat for the Gunnison sage grouse, and moves the country in the right direction on climate. We applaud the agency's recognition of the importance of protecting America’s wild legacy – and urge BLM and the Fish and Wildlife Service to aggressively protect the greater sage grouse and its habitat in 2015.
We hope President Obama continues this trend with more decisions that move our country further away from fossil fuels - such as withdrawing plans to allow offshore drilling and leasing in the Arctic Ocean.