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Indigenous and Environmental Groups Call on Obama Administration to Stop Criminalizing Climate Speech

U.S. Department of the Interior Called on to Protect Climate, not Prevent and Avoid Scrutiny from Americans

Additional contact: Rebecca Sobel, WildEarth Guardians, (267) 402-0724,

Denver, CO—As police efforts escalate to silence water protectors fighting the Dakota Access Pipeline, a coalition today called on the Obama Administration and the U.S. Department of Interior to reverse course and stop treating climate activists as criminals.

"Our climate and concerned Americans are being criminalized to accommodate the demands of the oil and gas industry," said Jeremy Nichols, WildEarth Guardians' Climate and Energy Program Director.  "The Obama Administration needs to stop letting the fossil fuel industry trample our rights and start stepping up to actually protect our climate and our future."

The letter comes as the Department of the Interior and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management have recently taken actions to undermine climate activists scrutinizing the agencies’ decisions to lease thousands of acres of public lands to the oil and gas industry. 

In the past year, thousands of people have called on the Interior Department to stop auctioning off public lands for fracking and the agency has faced unprecedented scrutiny from Americans concerned over the fate of the climate. At public oil and gas lease sales, the Interior Department now regularly faces calls to “Keep it in the Ground.”

In response, Interior has taken a series of steps to stymie and undermine this climate speech, including:

  • Moving public oil and gas lease auctions online to avoid facing climate activists;
  • Undertaking surveillance of peaceful climate activists; and
  • Directly criminalizing public demonstration through rule changes, including making protests a punishable crime in Colorado.

In a recent glaring example of impeding climate speech, WildEarth Guardians learned through a Freedom of Information Act request that the Bureau of Land Management moved the location of a proposed New Mexico oil and gas lease solely to avoid public engagement, even considering an oil friendly location.

“Our federal agencies are meant to represent the public, but these days it seems the collusion between corporate interest and government resources is too blatant to hide,” said Jeremy Nichols, Climate and Energy Program Director for WildEarth Guardians. “Protecting the climate isn’t illegal, but criminalizing peaceful protestors at the bidding of oil companies should be.”

Since November 2015 hundreds of Keep it in the Ground activists have been peacefully demonstrating at oil and gas lease sales across the country to call for the Obama Administration to reconcile its climate goals with its federal fossil fuel leasing programs.  In the past year, eleven oil and gas lease sales have been cancelled or postponed in response to public protest.

Today’s letter calls on the Obama Administration to stop criminalizing activists and their speech and to take steps to confront the climate impacts of its oil and gas leasing program.  Reports indicate that 10% of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions can be traced back to oil and gas leased and produced from publicly owned lands and waters. 

All told, nearly 90 billion metric tons of carbon emissions stand to be prevented if the Obama Administration were to put a halt to oil and gas leasing today.  That’s the equivalent of 15 years of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.

A copy of the letter is available here.

Additional Statements:

"In a far-reaching and desperate move to protect corporate interests, the BLM has moved to criminalize 'offensive' speech. If there is a bedrock principle underlying the First Amendment, it is that government may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because it finds it offensive or disagreeable. This is not merely my opinion this is the law as concluded by former U.S. Supreme Court Justice William Brennan.”
-    Mariel Nanasi, Executive Director, New Energy Economy

“Recent actions by the Department of the Interior fly in the face of important commitments made by President Obama to combat climate change. The public wants clean energy and a hopeful future, and they have a constitutional right to peacefully express these views through public discourse. Our country is built on a long tradition of peaceful protest.”
-    Shelley Silbert, Executive Director of Great Old Broads for Wilderness


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