Last Trump Sale of Public Lands for Fracking Prompts Outrage and Hope

Trump has made it a goal to sell as much public land as possible for fracking over the last four years, but thankfully after today, the administration’s pro-fossil fuel, climate and science denying, anti-public agenda will finally come to an end.

That’s because today marks the last federal oil and gas lease sale to be held under the Trump administration. The sale involves nearly 7,000 acres of public lands in New Mexico, where the oil and gas industry has aggressively demanded the right to frack the sacred Greater Chaco region and pushed to drill at unprecedented levels in the Permian Basin.

Under Trump, these sales of public lands for fracking in New Mexico have drawn widespread and persistent condemnationfrom elected officials, Tribes, youth, communities, and many others. In fact, throughout the American West, the administration’s attempts to liquidate public lands to the oil and gas industry have spurred intense pushback and numerous court rebukes.

It’s no wonder. As public lands are sold for fracking, the federal government effectively opens the door for more fossil fuel extraction, leading to more climate pollution, more health threats, more air and water contamination, and more public lands destruction.

It’s why we’ve made “Keep It In The Ground” a rallying call for WildEarth Guardians’ Climate and Energy Program. If we can’t keep fossil fuels in the ground, we have no chance of protecting our health, safety, and future.

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Keep It In The Ground rally in New Mexico in 2016.

While the January 14 sale has again drawn outrage and protests, including additional legal challenges from WildEarth Guardians and its allies, it also marks an extremely hopeful new chapter in the future of how oil and gas will be managed on public lands in New Mexico and throughout the American West.

President-elect Joe Biden has made clear that banning the sale of public lands for fracking will be a key tenet of his administration. He’s pledged to enact such a ban on day 1, a promise that WildEarth Guardians and many others have been working to ensure he follows through with. You too can raise your voice and urge President-election Biden to keep dirty fossil fuels in the ground.

Day 1 is one week from now, January 21, 2021. It can’t come sooner.

No place exemplifies the need for a ban on selling public lands to the oil and gas industry than in New Mexico. The  U.S. Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Land Management has not only ignored Tribal demands for a moratorium on selling lands in the Greater Chaco region, but also denied that authorizing more fracking in the Permian Basin has any consequences for the climate.

Oil and gas extraction from New Mexico public lands has fueled environmental injustice and racism, put the state’s scarce water supplies at risk, undermined clean air, and promoted economic instability. It’s a microcosm of how extraction has negatively affected public lands and communities throughout the entire American West, including in ColoradoMontanaUtah, and Wyoming.

Thankfully, President-elect Biden has nominated U.S. Representative Deb Haaland of New Mexico to be the next Secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior. Not only would Representative Haaland be the first Indigenous cabinet member in U.S. history, but her commitment to public lands, climate action, and justice is unparalleled.

She’s also made protection of the Greater Chaco region a priority, a proxy for safeguarding other sacred and irreplaceable cultural landscapes in the American West.

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Representative Deb Haaland.

It’s an incredibly positive sign that the incoming Biden administration will take seriously the need to put climate first and put an end to selling public lands for fracking.

And it’s an incredibly hopeful sign that, despite one last Trump assault on public lands and the climate, there is light at the end of the tunnel.

This moment is all the more bittersweet considering where we were before Trump. Although President Obama embraced climate action and supported efforts to curtail greenhouse gas emissions, the oil and gas industry “thrived” under his administration.

In 2016, we tried to convince Obama to put the brakes on selling public lands for fracking. Sadly, he denied our request, which tragically set the stage for the Trump administration to ramp up sales to the oil and gas industry to nearly unprecedented levels.

We hope President Biden takes to heart the need to confront the climate crisis, as well as the need to learn from the past. We can’t frack our way to a safe climate and nowhere is that more obvious and apparent than in New Mexico.

It’s sad and infuriating that to the bitter end, the Trump administration is doing everything it can to undermine our climate, justice, and public lands.

At the same time, it’s inspiring, and exciting that with leaders like Joe Biden and Deb Haaland, we may actually have a chance at reversing this tragedy and giving our nation and its public lands new hope for a sustainable, just, and prosperous future.

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Jeremy Nichols is the Climate and Energy Program Director at WildEarth Guardians. Learn more at