Grassroots groups open new front in the battle against fossil fuels and climate change
While conservation groups celebrated the Obama administration’s recent decision to temporarily bar new oil and gas leases off the Atlantic Coast, activists aren’t finished battling the fossil fuel juggernaut quite yet.
Opening a new front in the climate war, hundreds of Gulf Coast residents are joining forces with local and national environmental and social justice groups to oppose a federal offshore fossil fuel lease sale in the Gulf of Mexico — a region that has a long economic dependence on fossil fuel exploitation, so it’s unclear if the protest movement will resonate with a majority of locals.
But activists say they will build momentum with ongoing grassroots efforts.
“The people in the Gulf Coast are finally waking up to the utter destruction of handing over our Gulf of Mexico to Big Oil. Oil spills, a destroyed coast and seafood in peril is what has come from drilling over the last fifty years,” said Anne Rolfes of the Louisiana Bucket Brigade. “We are making a historic call for no new drilling in our Gulf of Mexico. Like the people of the West Coast and Atlantic Coast, we are standing up for ourselves, our future and the future of this planet.”
The proposed lease of 43 million acres in the Gulf of Mexico to develop as much as 965 million barrels of oil and 4 trillion cubic feet of natural gas is the largest single offering by the Obama administration. This week, the coalition sent a letter to President Obama requesting the sale’s cancellation as it prepares for an unprecedented March 23 demonstration at the Superdome, where the bids will be announced.
The letter, signed by 47 groups, explains that the development of publicly owned fossil fuels will boost greenhouse gas emissions, hampering efforts to achieve the big cuts required to meet the terms of the global climate deal reached in Paris late last year.
“International climate deals are meaningless if they don’t result in keeping fossil fuels in the ground. This fossil fuel auction is a test of President Obama’s resolve. Will he stand with local communities fighting for a just transition to clean energy, or a fossil fuel industry motivated only by greed? Climate leadership means keeping fossil fuels in the ground, and under the sea,” said Jason Kowalski, policy director at 350.org.
The Superdome rally will build off the momentum of the national Keep It in the Ground movement, which has used direct action to block federal auctions of drilling rights on public lands across the country over the past year. Gulf residents are also demanding the industry create at least 1,000 jobs to address its aging infrastructure and toxic legacy, particularly in communities of color. Details on the Superdome event and Gulf organizing effort can be found at www.nonewleases.org.
“East Coast communities rose up against offshore oil drilling and the Atlantic was protected. The lesson is that public action matters. Now we need to demand no new leases in the Arctic and Gulf of Mexico, to protect our climate, wildlife and coastal communities,” said Miyoko Sakashita, oceans program director at the Center of Biological Diversity.
The Obama administration characterized the Gulf of Mexico as one of the most productive fossil fuel areas in the world — “where resource potential and industry interest are high, and oil and gas infrastructure is well established.”
But some Gulf residents don’t think their region should be a sacrifice zone any longer.
“Turning over even more of our public waters to Big Oil is a step backward,” said Allison Fisher, outreach director of Public Citizen’s Climate and Energy Program. “Less, not more drilling in the Gulf, is required to reduce the risk of catastrophic spills, protect coastal communities and achieve significant cuts in U.S. carbon pollution.”