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Dem bill blocks new fossil fuel leases on federal land

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Sens. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), a 2016 contender, are launching a long-shot effort to block the federal government from issuing fossil fuel extraction leases on public land.

The pair will introduce a new bill Wednesday that prevents the government from issuing new fossil fuel leases on federal land and denies the renewal of unused leases when they expire.

{mosads}The bill, Merkley said Tuesday, is designed to combat climate change. Scientists say keeping the large stores of untapped fossil fuel reserves underground will help keep the Earth from warning more than 2 degrees Celsius, the threshold they predict will usher in the worst of global warming. 

“We have to stop thinking of these — in terms of the leases on our public fossil fuels — not as a way to build revenue for the government, but in fact to address the challenge of global warming,” Merkley said. “It is a paradigm shift.”

The bill is certain to languish in the Republican-controlled Congress, which has looked to expand energy development on federal land, not limit it. 

But Merkley said he hopes the legislation will kick off a grassroots movement that will eventually force lawmakers to block new drilling and mining on public land.

Merkley and Bill McKibben, the founder of the climate change group, told reporters Tuesday that they are buoyed by the state of the environmental movement and hope to direct that enthusiasm toward federal energy development next.

“This is a thing that will push the debate toward places it needs to go, and that debate is evolving way, way faster than anyone thought,”  McKibben said.

They pointed to two major grassroots environment movements opposing the Keystone XL pipeline and a Royal Dutch Shell plan to drill for oil and gas in the Arctic Ocean.

If green groups can raise the same enthusiasm against federal land leases, they said, that would breathe life into a proposal to end federal new federal land energy development.

“This gives a rallying point for the grassroots to get in engaged, as they got engaged in the Keystone pipeline, as they got engaged on the Arctic,” he said.

Congressional Republicans will certainly block Merkley’s bill, a prospect he said he accepted on Tuesday. Republicans have tried to pressure President Obama to expand energy development on federal land, which has dipped slightly over the last few years.

But Merkley said he’s introducing the bill now to get it on lawmakers’ radar. Merkley hopes candidates in addition to Sanders take a position on the matter soon.

“It also is designed to say: this is a credible policy strategy, bring it in to full public discussion,” he said. “Hopefully it will also become part of the debate in our election process, which is unfolding before us.”

Tags Bernie Sanders Jeff Merkley

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