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‘Obama wouldn’t keep fossil fuels in the ground. But Biden says he will’ – Biden could end new fossil fuel drilling on public lands


It’s been nearly five years since the chilly February morning when I shuffled into the back of a conference room at Salt Lake City’s convention center to watch the federal government auction off oil and gas drilling rights for up to 45,000 acres of public lands. There were nearly 100 protesters in the room too, part of a growing campaign urging the Obama administration to stop allowing new fossil fuel extraction on lands and waters owned by the American people.

The protesters hadn’t planned to disrupt the bidding. But once the auctioneer started, they broke out in spontaneous chants, rising in volume until the proceedings ground to a halt: “People gonna rise like the water, gonna calm this crisis down. I hear the voice of my great-granddaughter, saying, ‘Keep it in the ground!’”

Police ultimately escorted them out, as I reported for the Desert Sun at the time.

Afterward, as I got lost trying to exit the cavernous convention center, I bumped into the renowned environmental writer Terry Tempest Williams. To my surprise, she told me she had agreed to pay $1.50 per acre to buy drilling rights on 800 acres that hadn’t gotten any competitive bids, with the intention of keeping the land out of the hands of the fossil fuel industry. She ultimately paid for 1,120 acres, a move that drew national attention, especially after the federal government refused to issue the leases.

So it was an eventful morning in Salt Lake.

I watched another oil and gas auction last week, but this one was less dramatic. The federal government has moved all its lease sales online, eliminating the ability for protesters to raise hell. So instead of showing up at a convention center, I sat on my couch and pressed “refresh” a bunch of times as the EnergyNet website updated to reflect digitally submitted bids for 4,100 acres in California’s Kern County, north of Los Angeles.