California environmentalists blast federal oil lease sale
BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (AP) — Oil and gas leases on federal public lands in California were put up for auction for the first time in eight years on Thursday, drawing protests from environmental organizations on grounds including threats to climate, human health and wildlife.
The seven parcels put up for bid by the Bureau of Land Management encompass more than 4,100 acres (1,659 hectares) in Kern County, in the southern San Joaquin Valley.
The Center for Biological Diversity, a nonprofit conservation organization, blasted the Trump administration for going ahead with the auction amid ongoing legal disputes, saying Kern County is already one of the most polluted in the country.
Kassie Siegel, director of the center’s Climate Law Center, noted in a statement that it has been a year of “record-breaking fires and scorching temperatures.”
“We look forward to working with President-elect (Joe) Biden to revoke these illegal leases and make good on his pledge to protect our climate by banning new oil and gas leasing on federal lands,” Siegel said.
The center contends that parcels were opened up to auction through a flawed environmental review process that has been challenged in court.
In an earlier request for public comment on the sale, the BLM’s Bakersfield field office noted that all the parcels are located in or adjacent to existing oilfields and that oil and gas fields in California are highly developed, some producing for more than 100 years.
“The BLM is a key contributor to the Trump Administration’s priority for American energy independence through an all-of-the-above strategy that includes oil and gas, strategic minerals and renewable sources such as wind, geothermal and solar — all of which can be found on public lands,” the BLM statement said.
The Center for Biological Diversity said nearly 35,000 written responses to the BLM denounced the plan and dozens of conservation, environmental, health and community groups joined in a letter of opposition.
Wildlife threatened by oil development of the lands include the San Joaquin kit fox and the California condor, environmentalists contend.
Jenny Binstock, a senior campaign representative with the Sierra Club, described the auction as “reckless handouts to the fossil fuel industry” that ignored public opposition and public health.