Posted by: Sandy Steinman | December 14, 2020

Trump Administration Auctions Off California Public Lands for Oil, Gas

Center for Biological Diversity News Release

First Sale in Eight Years Comes Ahead of Biden’s Promised Leasing Ban

BAKERSFIELD, Calif.— The Trump administration opened bidding today in the first auction of California federal public lands to oil companies in eight years. Despite community opposition and ongoing legal disputes, the Bureau of Land Management put over 4,000 acres in Kern County up for sale for oil drilling and fracking.

Conservation and community groups have voiced opposition to the sale since it was announced in late August. The Bureau received nearly 35,000 written comments condemning the plan, as well as a letter signed by more than 85conservation, environmental justice, public health and community groups.

President-elect Joe Biden has pledged to ban new oil and gas leasing on federal public lands and waters when he takes office Jan. 20.

“As we close out a year of record-breaking fires and scorching temperatures, Trump wants to burn it all down on his way out the door,” said Kassie Siegel, director of the Center for Biological Diversity’s Climate Law Institute. “We look forward to working with President-elect Biden to revoke these illegal leases and make good on his pledge to protect our climate by banning new oil and gas leasing on federal lands.”

Meanwhile residents of Kern County already live in one of the most polluted counties in the country.

“Disparities in health status and access to healthcare are pervasive but often invisible in communities of color,” said Central Valley gerontologist and activist Rosanna Esparza. “What is clear, however, is that the wholesale auction of public lands to oil and gas development will surely impact health outcomes for these same communities for generations to come. This practice must stop now.”

Threats to climate, air quality and public health are particularly acute in the region.

“My community is sick and tired of being sickened by the oil and gas industry,” said Cesar Aguirre, a community organizer with the Central California Environmental Justice Network. “This auction represents more of the environmental racism that’s turned communities like mine into expendable sacrifice zones.”

Two successful lawsuits brought by the Center have resulted in no new leasing in California since 2012. In December 2019, however, the Trump administration made a final decision to allow oil drilling and fracking across more than a million acres of federal public land in California. Today’s auction relied upon the flawed environmental review process that opened up those parcels, which has been challenged in court.

“By forcing this auction through, the Trump administration is ignoring public opposition and public health,” said Jenny Binstock, a senior campaign representative with the Sierra Club. “President-elect Biden has pledged to protect our public lands from new drilling and fracking, and we are counting on him to put a stop to these reckless handouts to the fossil fuel industry.”

Drilling on these parcels threatens wildlife habitat and endangered species like the San Joaquin kit fox and California condor.

“Trump’s Bureau failed to adequately assess fracking’s environmental, health and safety harms in their environmental review,” said Rebecca August, director of advocacy with Los Padres ForestWatch. “This auction disregards science and our communities to cater to the oil industry while threatening an Area of Critical Environmental Concern and the beloved Carrizo Plain National Monument.”

Bidding opened at 8 a.m. and closed at 9 a.m. Dec. 10.


Fossil fuel production on public lands causes about a quarter of U.S. greenhouse gas pollution. Peer-reviewed science estimates that a nationwide federal fossil fuel leasing ban would reduce carbon emissions by 280 million tons per year, ranking it among the most ambitious federal climate-policy proposals in recent years.

Federal fossil fuels that have not been leased to industry contain up to 450 billion tons of potential climate pollution; those already leased to industry contain up to 43 billion tons. Pollution from already-leased fossil fuels on federal lands, if fully developed, would essentially exhaust the U.S. carbon budget for staying below warming of 1.5 degrees Celsius.

Existing laws give Congress and presidents the authority to end new federal fossil fuel leasing. Hundreds of organizations have already petitioned the federal government to end new onshore and offshore leasing. President-elect Biden has committed to “banning new oil and gas leasing on public lands and waters.”

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