95 percent of emissions potentially omitted
Greenhouse gas emissions from federal lands and waters could be more than 20 times what the federal government reports, according to a new scoping study commissioned by The Wilderness Society. The White House Council on Environmental Quality potentially omitted nearly 95% of GHG emissions from federal lands and waters by not properly accounting the emissions associated with coal, oil, and natural gas extraction through federal leasing to private companies.
"Unfortunately, the public has been receiving a vastly distorted view of the greenhouse gas emissions from federal lands," said David Moulton, senior director for legislative affairs for the wilderness society.
"It is like reporting on the size of an elephant by only looking at the trunk," said Moulton.
According to the scoping study, which presents a preliminary estimate of the extent of GHG emissions associated with fossil fuels extracted from federal lands and waters through private leasing, the total emissions amount to approximately 1,551 million metric tons of carbon dioxide originating from federal lands - far more than the 66.4 million metric tons reported by CEQ. More than half - 57% - of the missing emissions come from coal, with the rest from offshore oil (16%), onshore natural gas (10%), offshore natural gas (9%), and a combination of onshore oil, coalbed methane, and natural gas liquids (collectively approximately 7%). Altogether, the unaccounted emissions from fossil fuels extracted from federal lands could total nearly 25% of annual GHG emissions nationwide.
A 2009 executive order called on federal agencies to report and reduce GHG emissions within each agency, but did not include the emissions that result from burning the fossil fuels extracted through private leases on federal lands.
"The administration deserves credit for attempting to account for the sources of emissions, but its failure to include the effects of the fossil fuels extracted from federal lands leaves an incomplete picture," said Moulton.
The Wilderness Society recommends that the White House and federal agencies properly account for all of the GHG emissions that result from their work, not just the emissions that the agencies are directly responsible for such as those from heating and lighting buildings and driving government vehicles.