Pressure on Biden Builds: Members of Congress & Build Back Fossil Free Coalition Push for Action on Fossil Fuels Ahead of COP26

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE 
October 22, 2021 

Washington, D.C. — After the week-long “People vs. Fossil Fuels” mobilization at the White House, pressure is building on the Biden Administration ahead of COP26 to use its executive authority to declare a climate emergency and stop approving fossil fuel projects. 

On Friday, thirteen members of Congress sent a letter to the Biden Administration urging action on the coalition’s demands to declare a climate emergency and stop approving fossil fuel projects. 

“Now is the time to use your authority under existing law to immediately stop fossil fuel expansion and declare a climate emergency as a fundamental part of your push to invest in good jobs, environmental justice, a just transition, and a future powered by renewable energy,” wrote the members of Congress. 

The new Congressional letter led by Rep. Cori Bush outlines the demands of the coalition, pushing President Biden to reject all fossil fuel infrastructure permits, ban federal fossil fuel leasing and drilling, end fossil fuel exports, develop a comprehensive just transition program, and declare a national climate emergency to support a rapid buildout of an equitable renewable energy economy. 

Along with turning up the heat in D.C., the hundreds of groups involved in the Build Back Fossil Free coalition are planning to bring their campaign to the COP26 climate talks in Glasgow, where they’ll argue the only way for the administration to meet its climate commitments is to act decisively on fossil fuels.

“The Biden Administration is heading to Glasgow with a clear mandate from the American people: ‘Build Back Better’ and ‘Build Back Fossil Free,’” said John Beard, founder and CEO of the Port Arthur Community Action Network and a steering committee member of Build Back Fossil Free. “We are proud to rise with Representative Cori Bush and twelve of her colleagues in Congress in our efforts to show that the clearest way for Biden to salvage his climate agenda ahead of COP26 is to announce that he is declaring a climate emergency and stopping the federal approval of fossil fuel projects. Last week was just the beginning: we’re going to be keeping up the pressure on this administration alongside our champions in Congress until the President stops the fossil fuel projects that are threatening our communities, our way of life and the climate. It’s truly ‘people vs. fossil fuels,’ and people must prevail.”

Dallas Goldtooth with the Indigenous Environmental Network added, “Any COP26 climate pledges presented by the Biden administration will ring hollow if the President doesn’t stop major projects like the Line 3 tar sands pipeline, oil drilling in the Arctic, fossil fuel exports, and continues to allow drilling, mining and fracking to continue on Native and public lands.”

The letter and the new pressure from the Build Back Fossil Free coalition comes after thousands of people marched in the streets and over 650 people were arrested during last week’s People Vs. Fossil Fuels week of action. The mobilization generated headlines in the Washington Post, ABC News, MSNBC, Associated Press, and more. When asked about the demonstrations, White House press Secretary Jen Psaki called those taking part “important voices” and said the administration’s commitment on climate wouldn’t end with the proposals moving through Congress.

Despite the Administration’s rhetoric and earlier claims that the President has “taken across the board steps, every step he can take within his control, to move the climate agenda forward,” the Biden administration has failed to stop major projects like the Line 3 tar sands pipeline, defended oil drilling in the Arctic, promoted fossil fuel exports, and allowed drilling, mining and fracking to continue on Native and public lands. These failures by the Administration are also highlighted in the new Congressional letter.

“The science is very clear. In order to stand a chance of avoiding unfathomable climate chaos, we must halt all new fossil fuel development immediately, and rapidly replace existing dirty energy sources with truly clean, renewable power,” said Emily Wurth, organizing director at Food & Water Watch. “President Biden promised on the campaign trail to initiate a clean energy transition by first banning oil and gas drilling and fracking on federal lands. We’re still waiting for him to make good on this very clear pledge.”

Meanwhile, the impacts of the climate and pollution crisis have only grown worse. Hurricanes have devastated communities from New Orleans to New York City. Wildfires have burned millions of acres across the West. Historic droughts and heatwaves have gripped most of the country. And every day, millions of Americans, especially Black, Brown, and Indigenous People, breathe air and drink water poisoned by fossil fuel pollution. 

Still, the President has passed the buck to Congress, allowing his agenda to be delayed and weakened by industry-friendly politicians, including those in his own party, like Senators Manchin and Sinema. The Build Back Fossil Free coalition and the new calls from Congress make it clear that no matter what happens in the House and Senate, Biden must use his own executive authorities to act on fossil fuels. 

“President Biden has immense executive powers to speed the end of the fossil fuel era and ignite a just, renewable-energy revolution with millions of good-paying union jobs,” said Jean Su, energy justice director and a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “We’re calling on the president to reclaim his power from coal- and gas-state Senators and follow through as the climate president he promised to be ahead of the UN climate talks in Glasgow.”

The Keystone XL pipeline President Obama rejected would have resulted in CO2 emissions equivalent to 51 coal fired power plants. If it’s allowed to go into operation, the Line 3 pipeline Biden refused to stop will have the emissions equivalent of 50 coal fired power plants. 

New Data Shows Climate Goals at Risk Due to Administration’s Inaction

A series of recent reports shows how important it is for the Biden Administration to stop the production of fossil fuels in order to reach its climate targets. 

Yesterday, the UN Environment Program and leading think-tanks released the latest Production Gap Report, which shows that the United States’ and other countries’ current oil, gas and coal production is far too high to keep global warming below 1.5 degrees celsius. According to the report, countries are on track to produce 240% more coal, 57% more oil, and 71% more gas than the world can burn and keep global warming below 1.5°C. 

Last week, Oil Change International published a report that showed how if the Biden Administration moves ahead with 21 major fossil fuel infrastructure projects that are currently under federal review, it would be the emissions equivalent of adding 316 new coal fired power plants, more than are currently operating in the United States. The total emissions from just these projects would represent 17% of total US greenhouse gas emissions in 2019.  

Days before the week of action in Washington, more than 330 U.S. research scientists sent a letter to President Biden today urging him to use his executive authority to stop all new fossil fuel projects and declare a climate emergency — actions they say are necessary to avoid the worst damages of the climate crisis and deliver on environmental justice. 

A Path Forward

Build Back Fossil Free has laid out a long list of steps that President Biden could take today with his existing executive authorities to curb ongoing fossil fuel production and emissions. They include: 

  • Stopping all fossil fuel infrastructure project approvals. President Biden can apply the same logic he used to cancel Keystone XL to all fossil fuel infrastructure projects immediately. He can direct federal agencies to use their authority under existing laws like the National Environmental Policy Act and Clean Water Act to reject federal permit applications for all fossil fuel infrastructure projects including pipelines, import and export terminals, storage facilities, refineries, and petrochemical plants.
  • Following through on his promise to ban federal fossil fuel leasing and drilling. President Biden must immediately halt federal fossil fuel leasing and permitting on public lands and waters, complete the comprehensive review and rulemaking on the federal leasing program, and direct the Secretary of the Interior to permanently ban fossil fuel lease sales and enact a managed decline of fossil fuel production consistent with limiting warming to no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius. He should also direct the Secretary of the Interior to work with the Attorney General to review the lawfulness of existing fossil fuel leases on public lands and waters, and to cancel improperly issued leases.
  • Stopping fossil fuel exports. President Biden must reinstate the crude oil export ban through a National Emergencies Act declaration and direct the Department of Energy to reject applications for gas exports to the extent allowed by the Natural Gas Act.
  • Declare a Climate Emergency. By declaring a national climate emergency, President Biden can follow through on his promised “whole-of-government approach” to climate leadership, oversee a rapid, just buildout of renewable energy and launch the biggest jobs stimulus since World War II. Declaring a climate emergency under the National Emergencies Act would unlocks unique statutory powers that would allow the President to:
    • Immediately reinstate the crude oil export ban.
    • Direct the Secretary of Defense to redirect a portion of military spending to carry out a rapid construction program of renewable energy projects to meet a significant portion of the nation’s power needs
  • Invoke the Defense Production Act to provide critical loan guarantees and ensure a comprehensive buildout of just, renewable energy development that creates millions of good union jobs.

Over the coming weeks, Build Back Fossil Free will continue to build on the momentum from the People vs. Fossil Fuels mobilization to bring thousands more people into the fossil fuel resistance and continue to ramp up pressure on the Biden Administration to act. Many of the groups involved in last week’s mobilization will be headed in person to COP26, while others will continue to rally the public back at home. 

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