Environment Politics

Sanders Introduces “Keep It In The Ground” Bill While Continuing Presidential Campaign

Gage Skidmore, flickr; skeeze, pixabay
Written by Ethan M. Long

Yesterday, Presidential Candidate and Senator Bernie Sanders introduced a bill, co-sponsored by Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) entitled “A Bill To prohibit drilling in the outer Continental Shelf, to prohibit coal leases on Federal land, and for other purposes” a.k.a. the “Keep It in the Ground Act of 2015.”

“I intend to do everything that I can to make certain that the planet that we leave all of the children of this world is a planet that is healthy and is a planet that is habitable,” said Sanders in a campaign video announcing the bill.

The bill would put the fossil fuel industry in the United States at full stop, as it would prohibit mass drilling operations and fracking. It supports this effort by using relatively easy and understandable language for any legislator, because it’s not an issue that should be victim of party politics. Climate change is real.

“We are here today because we recognize the damage to our planet that is coming from global warming,” said Sen. Merkley during a press conference yesterday. “There’s no doubt the planet is getting hotter. 2014 was the hottest in history, 2015 is going to be hotter yet, and the top 10 hottest recorded years of all occurred since 1998.”

The bill uses several examples of scientific findings, such as the fact that “from 1880 through 2014, global temperatures have increased by about 0.9 Celsius,” that each build on the last to stress the importance and criticalness of passing it. It designates “human activities” as the cause of “the vast majority” of global warming over the past half-century. It points at American industries which have already seen an impact, such as “farming, fishing, forestry, and recreation.”

“The Earth has cried out. Maine’s lobsters are moving north. Pacific Ocean oysters are having trouble with an acidifying ocean. Glaciers are disappearing in Glacier Park. Moose are dying in Minnesota and New Hampshire, and winters are too warm to kill the ticks that prey on the moose and the pine needles that prey on our trees,” Merkley told the crowd on Wednesday.  “Wildfires are raging in the West; towns in Florida are flooding at normal high tides. Droughts are killing crops; more powerful storms are doing major damage to communities across our nation. Everywhere you look, the impacts of global warming are substantial and they are robust. Our planet is in danger.”

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The language in this first portion warns lawmakers that unless they take action, the amplified storms and damage seen in the past couple of years will worsen. If there’s an increase of 2 degrees Celsius across the globe, it will “lead to increased droughts, rising seas, mass extinctions, head waves, desertification, wildfires, acidifying oceans, significant economic disruption and security threats,” and that “to avoid exceeding 2 degrees Celsius warming, at least 80 percent of carbon from proven fossil fuel reserves must be kept in the ground.”

Thus, the namesake of the bill says exactly what it is meant to achieve: end all potential extraction of fossil fuels within areas controlled by the United States, which would in turn stop the amount of carbon emissions released during the operations themselves. “Ending new leases for fossil fuels will prevent the release of 90 percent of the potential emissions from Federal fossil fuels,” the bill states.

“It’s imperative that we not just talk the talk but walk the walk, that the United States lead the world in combating climate change,” said Sen. Sanders.

Last month, the Obama Administration announced that they will be cancelling the remaining leases existing for the Arctic 2012 – 2017 period, in addition to denying lease suspensions for Shell and Statoil, who had hoped that they could continue at a later time. This won’t affect the 2017-2022 Lease Sale Schedule for now, something Sanders hopes to change with this piece of legislation.

The bill states that “It is the policy of the United States” that management of land and water should “be managed for the benefit of the people,” to “avoid the most dangerous impacts of climate change,” and “to promote a rapid transition to a clean energy economy by keeping fossil fuels in the ground.” It states that the Federal Government should do this “by not issuing any new lease of renewing any nonproducing lease for coal, oil, or natural gas.”

Sec. 4 specifies areas in the Gulf of Mexico, and the Pacific, Atlantic, and Arctic oceans where the U.S. controls. It calls for “Prohibition on New Oil and Gas Leasing on the Outer Continental Shelf.” In addition, Sec. 5 goes a step further, “Stopping New Coal, Oil, Tar Sands, Fracked Gas, and Oil Shale Leases on Federal Land.”

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“My hope is that all presidential candidates will join Sen. Merkley and Sen. Warren and others in fighting for this legislation and standing up to the fossil fuel industry,” Sanders said.

He then spoke directly to his colleagues. “Worry less about your campaign contributions and worry more about your children and grandchildren.”

Many high-profile members of Congress haven’t been showing up, in lieu campaigning instead, such as fellow presidential candidate and Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) who, according to GovTrack, has missed 76% of all votes in the last month, and whose absence in Congress has followed an unfortunate linear decline in the last year.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) have both missed about 20 percent of votes in the past month. Sanders has missed 11 percent of votes in that same period. Candidate who has shown up more than the rest? Rand Paul.

Sen. Merkley asked the crowd at the presser the same question that is now posed to his colleagues in Congress: “Are we going to act to keep our planet from being destroyed?”

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About the author

Ethan M. Long

Ethan Long is a journalist based out of Boston, MA.

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Sanders Introduces “Keep It In The Ground” Bill While Continuing Presidential Campaign

by Ethan M. Long
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