blm-letter-deliveryNovember 2016


President Barack Obama

The White House

1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW

Washington, DC 20500


Re:       Take action to stop new federal fossil fuel leases via Bureau of Land Management, including Colorado oil and gas lease sales, and protect people’s right to protest


Dear Mr. President:


We, the undersigned organizations, write to urge you to take action to stop new federal fossil fuel leases of public lands via the Bureau of Land Management, including Colorado oil and gas lease sales, and reject the proposal by the BLM in Colorado to criminalize protesting future auctions, which we believe endanger the health, safety and wellbeing of current and future generations.


First, this lease sale, as do all new federal fossil fuel leases, continues a dangerous disconnect between your administration’s ‘all of the above’ energy policy and the commitments that the United States made to other countries around the world at climate talks in Paris last December – to do our part to keep global temperature rise “well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit the increase to 1.5°C”.[1]


The Sky’s Limit Report[2] released in September of 2016 by Oil Change International makes very clear that no new fossil fuel production can be brought online if we are to have any chance of staying below a 1-5-2°C global temperature rise, which nations agreed upon last December in an effort to avert the most severe consequences of climate change. Using the industry’s own figures, the report shows that burning the oil, gas and coal in the fields and mines that are already either in production or being developed, is likely to take the global temperature rise beyond 2°C. Even if all coal mining were to be shut down today, the oil and gas lined up so far would take global temperature rise past 1.5°C.  A 2°C target means that we can use only around 85% of the fossil fuel that’s currently being developed or in production, while a 1.5°C target means we can extract little more than a third (the figures are explained by Bill McKibben in a New Republic article[3]).


Federal leasing of publicly owned land and waters for fossil fuel extraction contributes significantly to U.S. and global greenhouse gas emissions. About a quarter of all U.S. fossil fuels extraction (in energy terms), including two-fifths of all coal, occurs on federal lands and waters (according to the U.S. EIA 2015a). Despite this pollution and the looming climate threat, your administration continues to lease publicly owned fossil fuels, endangering the health and welfare of communities and the planet.


Conversely, by ending this outdated program, your administration could keep 450 billion tons of greenhouse gas emissions[4] out of the air. We ask you to end the federal fossil fuel (coal, oil & gas) leasing program on public lands. End the corporate control of our most valuable resources – clean water, air and land, healthy ecosystems, and a safe climate.

Last year more than 400 organizations and leaders called on your administration to end new federal fossil fuel leasing because the cost of continuing federal fossil fuel leasing to our communities, land, and climate is too high. The science is clear. To maintain a good chance of avoiding catastrophic levels of warming, the world must keep the vast majority of its remaining fossil fuels in the ground. Federal fossil fuels — those that belong to the people and that you control — are the natural place to begin. Each new federal fossil fuel lease opens new deposits for development that should be deemed unburnable. By placing those deposits off limits, stopping new leasing would help align your administration’s energy policy with a safer climate future and global carbon budgets.


Moreover, under your administration the Department of Interior has failed to even attempt to quantify the cumulative greenhouse gas emissions of past and new leasing; nor has it attempted to quantify the potential emissions of remaining unleased federal fossil fuels. This ongoing failure amounts to flying in the dark amidst a dangerous and worsening climate crisis.


Here in Colorado, the Bureau of Land Management’s December 8, 2016 lease sale continues this dangerous pattern by opening new fossil fuel resources and their resulting greenhouse gas emissions to development. This action is being taken in the absence of any analysis of the direct, indirect and cumulative greenhouse gas emissions. The Council on Environmental Quality has provided Final Guidance for Federal Departments and Agencies on Consideration of Greenhouse Gas Emissions and the Effects of Climate Change in National Environmental Policy Act Reviews (2016).[5] In particular, page 16 and footnote 42 of the final guidance make clear that BLM must consider the effects of “downstream” combustion emissions in their fossil fuel leasing decisions. Sadly, to the best of our knowledge, the Colorado State Office continues to ignore these requirements, dismissing the greenhouse gas emissions, climate impacts, and costs to society from these lease sales as no more than “negligible.”


Secondly, we are deeply concerned over recent moves that the U.S. Department of the Interior and Bureau of Land Management have taken to hinder and now apparently criminalize Americans who are exercising their rights to free speech and peaceful assembly. We urge you to reverse these attempts to squelch the first amendment rights of those standing up for a healthy environment and safe climate.


Concerned for our global climate, Americans have been increasingly speaking out against government mismanagement of publicly owned lands and waters by leasing these areas to fossil fuel companies at ridiculously low prices. Often these resources are irreparably damaged by leaks and the resulting emissions harm our most precious resources, held in public trust. Protesters’ concerns are more than reasonable considering that by authorizing more oil, gas, and coal development, your administration is effectively condoning more greenhouse gas emissions and directly undermining meaningful efforts to halt the worse impacts of global warming. In doing so, you are fueling an environmental and health crisis that is displacing and threatening billions of people, disrupting our economy, jeopardizing our national security, driving species to extinction, and undermining the future for all of our children and grandchildren.


Concerns over the climate impacts of your fossil fuel management decisions have justifiably manifested in the form of constitutionally protected speech and demonstration.  Over the last year, thousands of people have joined in protests over the Department of Interior’s decisions to approve auctioning of millions of acres of our public lands and waters for oil and gas drilling and fracking.

There seems to be an inherent conflict between your promises to “lead global efforts to address the threat of climate change” and the policies being implemented on the ground by the Department of Interior, which exacerbate the threat and accelerate the consequences of climate change. As you are aware and have stated, “Children, the elderly, and the poor are most vulnerable to a range of climate-related health effects, including those related to heat stress, air pollution, extreme weather events, and diseases carried by food, water, and insects.”[6] It is imperative that your administration and the Department of Interior immediately take necessary action to resolve this discrepancy between words and deeds.


Disturbingly, the Department of the Interior and the Bureau of Land Management are moving in the wrong direction. The administration is now seeking to outright criminalize climate speech and demonstration – actions that can only be understood as favoring corporate rights to pollute over our citizens’ rights to health and a livable planet.


In the last year, the Department of Interior and Colorado Bureau of Land Management have taken clear and deliberate steps to avoid and stymie public discourse over the climate impacts of oil and gas leasing, including:


  • Criminalizing water, land, air, and climate protectors – As recent reports have revealed, peaceful climate protestors have faced unreasonable levels of law enforcement scrutiny and resistance in response to protests of oil and gas lease sales.[7] BLM colluded with state and local law enforcement in an effort to target peaceful demonstrations with surveillance and intimidation, undermining people’s First, Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights. In doing so, they sent the message that free speech, protest, and demonstration for a safe climate and clean air, water and land is a law enforcement concern, rather than a legitimate, reasonable, and protected form of traditional American discourse.


  • Moving oil and gas lease sales online to avoid public scrutiny – This recent move to online auctions seems clearly calculated to further avoid public examination and pressure by limiting the transparency of the leasing process and eliminating in-person oil and gas lease sales as forums for peaceable assembly. It is notable that online oil and gas leasing were approved through a rulemaking that involved no public notice, no opportunity for public comment, and no legitimate deliberation. See 81 Fed. Reg. 59,902 (Aug. 31, 2016).


  • Criminalizing speech and assembly around the climate – Perhaps the most distressing proposal is the Colorado Bureau of Land Management’s move to criminalize demonstrations, forbidding any speech that is deemed to be “disruptive” or “offensive.” See 81 Fed. Reg. 69,019 (Oct. 5, 2016).  This far-reaching proposed rule seems to have come in direct response to protests and be meant to undermine American’s most basic First Amendment rights.


The Department of Interior seems to be consider the success of the oil and gas management program as more important than our global climate or the Constitutional rights of Americans.  This is shameful, unlawful, and it must stop.


We call on you to take immediate steps to set a new course, restore trust and integrity among all Americans, protect our rights, and most importantly, demonstrate a commitment to safeguarding the climate:

  • Immediately impose a moratorium on new onshore and offshore oil and gas leasing;
  • Develop and implement reforms to ensure the federal oil and gas program is managed in a way that fully safeguards the climate;
  • Order your law enforcement staff to stop hindering free speech and peaceable assembly and to stop treating climate activists as criminals. To this end, we call on you to withdraw the proposed rule in Colorado that would criminalize climate speech and assembly; and
  • Establish a clear and direct policy of promoting and accommodating free speech and peaceable assembly that allows all Americans the space to publicly scrutinize department actions and advocate for change and a better world for us all.


We ask you to intervene. In your 2016 State of the Union address, on the heels of the Paris Agreement, you announced your intention “to change the way we manage our oil and coal resources, so that they better reflect the costs they impose on taxpayers and our planet” (Obama 2016) From Standing Rock, to the Gulf, East and West Coasts, to the Rocky Mountains, people are rising up to demand an end to collusion between the fossil fuel industry and our government and are coming together to protect ourselves and future generations.


Please, seize the opportunity to usher in a new energy economy and transition to renewables as quickly as possible, and leave a legacy all of our children can be proud of.  Business as usual under the federal oil and gas leasing program is simply no longer a viable option. Thank you.




Micah Parkin, Executive Director, 350 Colorado

Lauren Petrie, Rocky Mountain Region Director, Food & Water Watch

Leslie Glustrom, Founder, Clean Energy Action

Rev. Peter Sawtell, Executive Director,  Eco-Justice Ministries

Rebecca Sobel, Climate & Energy Senior Campaigner, WildEarth Guardians

Kevin Nelson & Jessica Stone Troy, Team Co-Leaders, 350 Denver

Suzanne Spiegel, Community Organizer, Frack Free Colorado

Robert & Kay Parker, Team Co-Leaders, 350 Central Colorado

Kevin Cross, Steering Committee, Ft. Collins Sustainability Group

Michael Saul, Senior Attorney, Public Lands, Center for Biological Diversity

Christian O’Rourke, Communications Director,  Earth Guardians

Marie Venner, CatholicNetwork.US, CO Chapter of Global Catholic Climate Movement, Chair of the National Academies’ Transportation Research Board, Design &  Construction Group, Climate Change, Energy, and Sustainability Subcommittee

Justin Garoutte, Executive Director, Conejos Clean Water

Shelley Silbert, Executive Director, Great Old Broads for Wilderness

Vicky Goldstein, Executive Director, Colorado Ocean Coalition

Tess Geyer, Climate and Energy Network Organizer, Rainforest Action Network

Shelby Robinson, Team Co-Leader, 350 Ft. Collins

Joellen Raderstorf, Founder, Climate Culture Collaborative

Elisabeth Gick, Team Co-Leader, 350 Boulder County



Cc:       Sally Jewell, Secretary, U.S. Department of the Interior & Neil Kornze, Director, Bureau of Land Management, 1849 C Street, N.W. Washington DC 20240

Ruth Welch, State Director & Greg Shoop, Associate State Director, Colorado State Office, Bureau of Land Management, 2850 Youngfield Street, Lakewood, CO 80215

[1] See

[2] See

[3] See

[4] See

[5] See

[6] See President Obama, “Statement by the President on the Paris Climate Agreement,” (December 12, 2015), available at

[7] See Fang, L. and S. Horn, “Federal agents went undercover to spy on anti-fracking movements, emails reveal,” The Intercept (July 19, 2016), available at