Conservation groups today called on the Obama Administration to align public lands management with U.S. climate goals, in response to a draft proposal that would intensify fossil fuel extraction on one million acres of public land and mineral rights in western Colorado. Local groups want to shift their economy away from coal, oil, and gas, and toward sustainable organic agriculture and recreational tourism. The groups submitted a letter as the public comment period closes on November 1. 

“The North Fork Valley is not only one of the most beautiful places in the world, but it is home to the largest concentration of organic farms in Colorado. This draft resource management plan is a roadmap to destroying all of that, and turning this special place into an industrialized fossil fuel extraction zone,” said Natasha Léger, Interim Executive Director for Citizens for a Healthy Community, a front-line concerned citizens group protecting the community from the impacts of fossil fuel development. She added, “this draft plan isn’t just about us, it’s about everyone who loves our rural community, clean delicious food, to hunt, fish, hike, mountain bike, and to just savor the tranquility that comes with being in the mountains.”

In addition to the letter, the groups sent an approximately 200-page technical comment to the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) urging the agency to prohibit new federal coal, oil and gas leasing in the Uncompahgre planning area. To date, over 37,000 citizen comments have been submitted to BLM on the draft plan. The area encompasses 675,000 acres of public land and one million acres of federal fossil fuels in a scenic swath of western Colorado that includes burgeoning recreation and organic agriculture economies vulnerable to the effects of fossil fuel industrialization and climate change.

“Science and common sense tell us that the time for action on climate change is now, yet BLM’s draft plan proposes to expand the exploitation of fossil fuels at the expense of local communities,” said Laura King, attorney with the Western Environmental Law Center. “BLM cannot solve the pressing problem of climate change with its head in the sand. In an era of climate change, our public lands must be managed to ensure the resilience of our communities and the air, water, and landscapes upon which they rely.”

BLM this summer released a draft plan for the area and omitted any planning scenario that would reduce climate pollution, opting instead for a range of scenarios that would expand fossil fuel development above previous levels.  For example, the plan anticipates over 1,200 fracked gas and oil wells could be developed under the agency’s preferred development scenario. Those scenarios are clearly out of step with the U.S. commitment under the Paris Agreement to limit warming to below 2 degrees Celsius.  Recent studies project meeting that goal is incompatible with expanding fossil fuel development beyond that which is already under production.

“Our public lands should be managed to help prevent, rather than cause, climate disruption,” said Lena Moffitt, Director of the Sierra Club’s Dirty Fuels Campaign. “Opening up enough coal, oil, and gas to unleash more than half a billion tons of greenhouse gases over the next two decades is inconsistent with the urgent need to fight climate change and meet our Paris commitments.”

Today’s letter and formal comment calls on the administration to analyze an alternative that serves U.S. climate goals by prohibiting new fossil fuel leasing, thereby also protecting the western Colorado’s ecosystems and communities from the impacts of new fossil fuel industrialization and climate change.  Those impacts include air and water pollution, reduced snowpack and river flows, forest die-off, and the industrial conversion of natural ecosystems and wildlife habitat.

“It’s time for the Obama Administration to stop wasting and polluting precious Western water resources and endangering the fish that live there to produce fossil fuels that we cannot afford to burn,” said Diana Dascalu-Joffe, senior attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity.  “We can’t meet our climate goals if we continue to exploit our public lands in search of more dirty energy.”

Natasha Léger, Citizens for a Healthy Community, (970) 399-9700
Diana Dascalu-Joffe, Center for Biological Diversity, (720) 925-2521
Nathaniel Shoaff, Sierra Club, (415) 977-5610
Laura King, Western Environmental Law Center, (406) 204-4852

A copy of the comments is available here.

Learn more about our work on this issue here.

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