Chair Grijalva, Committee Leaders Introduce Landmark Climate Change Legislation Slashing Emissions From Public Lands and Waters

December 17, 2019
Press Release

Washington D.C. – Chair Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.) and leaders from the Natural Resources Committee released their flagship legislation to fight the climate crisis at a press conference on Capitol Hill this morning. Original cosponsors and supporters from the advocacy community hailed the introduction of H.R. 5435, the American Public Lands and Waters Climate Solution Act, which directs the Department of the Interior (DOI) and the United States Forest Service (USFS) to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions from public lands and waters by 2040.

Original cosponsors of the legislation include Vice-Chair Deb Haaland (D-N.M.), Rep. Alan Lowenthal (D-Calif.), Chair of the Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources, Rep. Mike Levin (D-Calif.), Rep. Gregorio Sablan (D-CNMI), Rep. A. Donald McEachin (D-Va.), and Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.). The bill is endorsed by The Wilderness Society, Natural Resources Defense Council, Earthjustice, Oceana and Earthworks.

The bill temporarily pauses new fossil fuel leases while the agencies develop a plan to reach the 2040 goal. DOI and USFS must meet climate pollution reduction targets at specific intervals starting in 2025 and publish strategic plans every four years that detail how the agencies will meet the pollution reduction targets established by the legislation. The bill also increases royalties on fossil fuel extraction by oil, gas, and coal corporations and uses the proceeds to support workers and communities impacted by a transition away from dirty energy development.

The full text of H.R. 5435 is available at http://bit.ly/2RZ7Qwn. A fact sheet explaining the bill’s major provisions is available at http://bit.ly/2M1wc56. A section-by-section of the bill is available at http://bit.ly/2sDNaQc.

Since taking the House majority, Natural Resources Committee Democrats have spent much of the past year tackling climate change from every angle. Chair Grijalva’s landmark bill is the culmination of a year of hearings, roundtables, public forums, and other public outreach efforts to learn more about how best to tackle the contribution of public lands and waters to climate change.

More than a century of burning fossil fuels without responsible limits has brought us to a climate crisis. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, climate-harming pollution from fossil fuel development on public lands and waters account for nearly a quarter of the U.S. total, while public land ecosystems absorb the equivalent of only about 3 percent of U.S. emissions each year.

The American Public Lands and Waters Climate Solution Act seeks to balance that out by 2040. The bill encourages the development of more renewable energy on public lands, better land management techniques to increase the amount of carbon absorbed by public lands ecosystems, and the use of public lands for geologic sequestration or negative-emissions technologies, while limiting the growth of new fossil fuel development and helping communities achieve a just transition.

“I’m very proud of the work my colleagues and I have done to protect our climate, and this bill is a testament to those efforts,” Grijalva said today. “Our public lands and waters should be managed for the public’s benefit, not for the benefit of oil, gas and coal corporations. By transitioning away from fossil fuels and reaching net-zero emissions on our public lands and waters by 2040, we’re not just protecting Americans – we’re helping protect the entire planet and meeting our ethical responsibilities to future generations.”

“The federal government should be leading the way in the effort to combat climate change, yet the way our country manages our lands make us one of the worst offenders,” said Vice Chair Haaland. “Earlier this year, several of us went to New Mexico for a field hearing, and we visited Chaco Canyon and surrounding sites. When we were there, we used an infrared camera to watch poison coming out of drilling equipment and pipes. You could smell it. We experienced headaches from breathing it in, and heard stories about how it affects the health of children who live nearby. This bill will move us toward net zero emissions on public lands, but what’s even more important is this bill focuses on our communities. It will provide financial assistance to workers like those in New Mexico that will be economically impacted by a transition away from fossil fuel extraction on public lands.”

“Island and coastal communities, like the Marianas, are particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change and are often the first to face its damaging consequences,” said Rep. Sablan. “The American Public Lands and Waters Climate Solution Act takes significant, lasting steps to finally reduce pollution on federal leases, reduce emissions, and limit global warming. I thank Chair Grijalva for his leadership and work on this bill and look forward to the day our federal public lands no longer contribute to the production of harmful carbon emissions.”

“Climate scientists agree that we must drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions in order to limit the worst effects of climate change, and instead we continue to burn fossil fuels at unsustainable rates, including on public lands,” said Rep. Levin. “Our public lands and waters should be part of the solution to the climate crisis, not part of the problem. Limiting new fossil fuel development on public lands and developing a comprehensive emission reduction strategy are commonsense steps we must take to combat this crisis. I am proud to introduce the American Public Lands and Waters Climate Solution Act with my colleagues, Chairman Grijalva, Rep. Haaland, Rep. Lowenthal, Rep. Sablan, Rep. McEachin, and Rep. DeGette”

A livestream of the press conference on the bill’s introduction can be viewed at http://bit.ly/2S4g4Dp

H.R. 5435 provides a path to end our public lands’ and waters’ contribution to climate change by 2040. Major provisions of the bill include:

  • Pollution Reduction Targets: Requires DOI and the USFS to meet climate pollution reduction targets at specific intervals starting in 2025 and achieve net-zero emissions from public lands and waters by 2040.
  • Public Lands Climate Change Strategic Plans: Requires DOI and USFS to publish a strategy every four years detailing how the agencies will meet the pollution reduction targets the bill establishes.
  • Pause on New Leasing: Pauses all new federal fossil fuel leasing for a minimum of one year to allow DOI to develop a comprehensive emission reduction strategy. Leasing can only resume after DOI finds that it would be consistent with reaching net-zero by 2040, and then only within limits established by the 4-year strategic plans.
  • Calculating Net Emissions: Makes the U.S. Geological Survey responsible for tracking emissions from the development and combustion of oil, gas, and coal produced on federal leases, as well as the emissions avoided by renewable energy generation on public lands, the amount of carbon absorbed by ecosystems on public lands, and any carbon dioxide captured and permanently sequestered on public lands.  
  • Enforcement: If at any point the climate pollution reduction targets are not being met, no new fossil fuel permits or leases may be issued until compliance is reached.
  • Fee Increases on Fossil Fuel Extraction: Increases the minimum royalty rate for onshore coal, oil, and gas from 12.5 percent to 18.75 percent. The bill also establishes new fees on producing and nonproducing oil and gas leases, to be paid by the fossil fuel industry.
  • Economic Development for Fossil Fuel Communities: Dedicates the new funds collected from the above fees to fossil fuel-dependent regions. The funds can be used for reclamation and restoration of land and water, transition assistance, worker retraining, economic diversification, and other purposes.

The Committee kicked off the year with a historic month of climate change hearings to hear from impacted communities, launched an online platform to hear from the American people about how climate change has impacted them, and held 22 hearings in 2019 focused on climate change to hear from experts, community members, Indian Country, scientists, and advocates.

The feedback gathered through these efforts has consistently underscored the urgent need to limit climate pollution as soon as possible, and to help impacted communities adapt quickly. A letter signed by 16 environmental groups thanked Chair Grijalva and the original sponsors for introducing this historic legislation.

The bill enjoys broad support from environmental stakeholders. 

“Our public lands and waters account for about a quarter of all U.S. fossil fuel production.  For too long, they’ve been handed over to the oil and gas industry, causing harm to our air, water, wildlife and communities. This bill shifts our approach to treat these assets as the treasures they are - places that are held in trust for all of us, and for future generations.  With this important legislation, we can manage our public lands and waters to help solve—and not fuel—the climate crisis.” – Sharon Buccino, Senior Director of Lands at Natural Resources Defense Council

“This legislation is a bold step towards solving the climate crisis in a transparent, inclusive, and collaborative way, and we are proud to support it. It recognizes that the days of unrestrained coal, oil, and gas extraction for the sake of profit must end. It welcomes the voices of impacted community members, Tribal communities, and scientific experts as necessary contributors to the development of a healthier planet rather than pushing them to the side. Crucially, it acknowledges that we must make an equitable and just transition to a clean energy economy as soon as possible. Earthjustice will continue to work with partners and allies to build support for this legislation.” – Marissa Knodel, Legislative Counsel for Climate and Energy at Earthjustice

“Our public lands have so much more to offer than yesterday’s energy, which is fueling the climate crisis today. This bill would help unlock the potential of public lands and waters to capture and store carbon, host renewable energy in the right places, and put people to work, while reining in pollution and investing in communities. We applaud Chairman Grijalva and his colleagues for proposing this strong step forward.” – Drew McConville, Senior Managing Director of Government Relations at The Wilderness Society

“Today’s bill helps fit our public lands within a broader climate solution. It directs our scientists and land managers to take decisive action requiring public land managers to hit scientifically-set greenhouse gas reduction targets. It also helps strengthen the Government’s consultation role with environmental justice communities. The climate crisis impacts us all and disproportionately impacts communities of color. Our transition away from fossil fuels toward clean energy must be just, equitable, and fair.” – Aaron Mintzes, Senior Policy Counsel at Earthworks

“Chairman Grijalva’s bill will help ensure coastal communities are protected from the threat of President Trump’s dirty and dangerous offshore drilling agenda. Congress should stand with the citizens, businesses and elected officials — from both parties and at every level of government — who object to opening up our waters to offshore drilling activities. If we are to avert the worst impacts of climate change, we cannot afford open season for oil drilling on our oceans.” – Diane Hoskins, Offshore Drilling Campaign Director at Oceana