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Interior Department Orders Give New Hope for Climate, Public Lands, and Justice

Secretary Deb Haaland reinstates moratorium on coal leasing and sets stage for climate accountability and environmental justice

Denver, CO—WildEarth Guardians today cheered Interior Secretary Deb Haaland’s latest actions to protect the climate and public lands, and to restore transparency, public accountability, environmental scrutiny, and justice in the U.S. Department of the Interior.

“Today is a watershed moment in the history of the U.S. Department of the Interior,” said Jeremy Nichols, climate and energy program director for WildEarth Guardians. “With Secretary Haaland’s actions today, it’s clear the Interior Department is now working for communities, science, and justice. We are grateful for her leadership and bold action to put people over polluters.”

Secretary Deb Haaland issued two Secretarial Orders today, both of which take aim at the Interior Department’s sordid track record of prioritizing fossil fuel interests, supporting climate denial, and perpetuating environmental injustice.

Secretarial Order 3398 rescinds a dozen Secretarial Orders issued under the Trump administration that effectively mandated climate and science denial, and put fossil fuel interests first under the banner of “energy dominance.” These orders opened up more lands for fracking and mining, streamlined environmental reviews, cut the public out of the management of public lands and resources, and mandated ignorance of climate science.

Critically, with Secretarial Order 3398, Secretary Haaland rescinded a previous Order that lifted a moratorium on federal coal leasing. As a result, the moratorium on coal leasing adopted under the Obama administration is back in effect.

“Today’s Orders makes certain that the Interior Department is no longer going to serve as a rubberstamp for the coal and oil and gas industries,” said Nichols. “Secretary Haaland’s actions set the stage for deep reforms within the Interior Department to ensure the federal government gets out of the business of fossil fuels and into the business of confronting the climate crisis.”

Secretarial Order 3399 directs the Interior Department to undertake a series of actions to align its agencies with climate science and climate action. Among other things, the Order establishes a climate task force, mandates early consultation with Tribes and attention to environmental justice, and directs agencies to account for the costs of greenhouse gas pollution in their actions.

The Order comes as studies show fossil fuel production managed by the Department of the Interior is responsible for nearly 25% of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.

“The Interior Department is in a powerful position to drive bold action for the climate in the United States,” said Nichols. “Secretary Haaland’s actions today confirm that President Biden and his administration are seizing the opportunity to rein in fossil fuels and make climate action and climate justice a reality.”

Secretary Haaland’s Orders come as this week, hundreds of Tribal, justice, community, and climate organizations called on the Interior Department to end fossil fuel leasing on public lands and phase out federal oil, gas, and coal production.

“We can’t have fossil fuels and a safe climate and today’s Orders take a major step forward in acknowledging and acting upon this reality,” said Nichols. “If we truly have any chance of protecting peoples’ health, advancing economic prosperity, and achieving environmental justice, we have to start keeping our fossil fuels in the ground.”

CONTACT: Jeremy Nichols, WildEarth Guardians, (303) 437-7663, jnichols@wildearthguardians.org 

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