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Climate coalition urges no new fossil fuel leasing off Virginia, other public areas

Even as offshore Virginia is eyed as a potential site for federal oil and gas leasing, a climate coalition is urging the president to halt new fossil fuel development on public lands and oceans.

The coalition plans to deliver a letter signed by more than 400 individuals and groups to the White House Tuesday morning, calling on President Barack Obama to leave “publicly owned fossil fuels” where they are.

But many lawmakers, including here in Virginia, back the president’s “all of the above” energy strategy, which includes potential oil and gas drilling off the Atlantic coast from Virginia to the Florida border.

In January, the U.S. Department of the Interior announced a proposed five-year draft plan that would make nearly 80 percent of the “undiscovered, technically recoverable resources” on the Atlantic’s Outer Continental Shelf available for development. Thirteen other potential lease sale areas are in the Gulf of Mexico and off Alaska. The plan covers the period from 2017 to 2022.

Virginia leaders including Gov. Terry McAuliffe, Sens. Tim Kaine and Mark Warner, and Rep. Scott Rigell support offshore drilling. Most Virginians do, too, polls show.

In related news, Shell seeks modified permit for Arctic offshore drilling.

The coalition includes scientists and religious leaders, groups such as the Sierra Club, Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, United Auto Workers, Physicians for Social Responsibility and Rainforest Action Network, as well as activists such as Robert F. Kennedy Jr., Noam Chomsky and Michael Mann.

“The science is clear,” the letter states. “To maintain a good chance of avoiding catastrophic levels of warming, the world must keep the vast majority of its remaining fossil fuels in the ground.”

Doing so, signatories say, would “set an important precedent,” ahead of upcoming climate negotiations in Paris, for global efforts to rein in the greenhouse gases associated with climate change.

The Virginia Petroleum Council in Richmond has said developing offshore oil and gas would bring significant benefits to the state. By peak year 2035, it would mean nearly 25,000 direct and indirect jobs plus $400 million a year if Atlantic states get a revenue-share plan with the federal government similar to that of Gulf states, according to the council.

But the draft plan must first undergo public comment, environmental reviews and energy analyses before a decision is made. Based on the information gathered, the Atlantic lease area could remain the same, get reduced or be eliminated entirely.

According to the climate coalition, more than 67 million acres of public land is already leased to the fossil fuel industry — including 15 million land acres and 21 million acres of ocean leased under the Obama administration alone.

In the past 10 years, the coalition said, the burning of fossil fuels from federal leasing has caused nearly a quarter of all U.S. energy-related emissions and nearly 4 percent of global emissions.

If no new federal leases are issued, the group said, it would prevent up to 450 billion tons of new greenhouse gas pollution.

Glen Besa of the Virginia chapter of the Sierra Club urged state leaders to reconsider their support for offshore drilling.

“We need Gov. McAuliffe, Sens. Kaine and Warner and Congressman Rigell to understand that we cannot address climate change at the same time they propose to drill for and burn oil and gas off our coast,” Besa said.

This article was written by Tamara Dietrich from Daily Press (Newport News, Va.) and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.

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