Bernie Sanders Introduces “Keep It in the Ground Act”

©. Phil Roeder

Senators Bernie Sanders and Jeff Merkley are introducing a bill today that would prohibit future leases on public land to extract fossil fuels, including gas, oil, and coal. The bill, called the “Keep it in the Ground Act,” would also ban offshore drilling in the Arctic and Atlantic Oceans.

“Keep it in the Ground” has been a rallying cry for groups working to fight climate change, after researchers calculated that at least a third of known oil reserves, half of gas reserves and 80 percent of coal reserves should not be burned to prevent an average global temperature increase of more than 2 degrees Celsius.

The bill’s authors say public lands are an easy place to end fossil fuel extraction.

“This bill is about recognizing that the fossil fuel reserves that are on our public lands should be managed in the public interest, and the public interest is for us to help drive a transition from fossil fuels to a clean energy future,” Merkley said during a press call. “We don’t have a lot of time to do this, so there’s an urgency to it, and a place that’s readily available for us to act is on the fossil fuels that are on our public lands.”

Robert Dilllion, a spokesperson for the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee’s chair Lisa Murkowski, expressed concern that the bill could lead to higher energy prices. In an interview with The Oregonian, he said the bill could cost the federal government billions in revenue from leases.

However, economic damage caused by climate change could cost the U.S. economy far more. According to one estimate, damage from climate disasters and sea level rise will cost U.S. costal areas alone $1 trillion by 2100.

The likelihood that this bill will make into law with the current congress seems like a long shot, but it absolutely represents the kind of ambitious plans we need from our elected officials to fight the consequences of climate change.