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SEI brief

Impact of phasing out federal coal and oil leases on CO2 emissions and 2°C goals

This policy brief, based on an SEI Working Paper, examines the implications for U.S. fossil fuel production and global CO2 emissions of ceasing to issue new federal leases for fossil fuel extraction and not renewing certain existing leases.

Michael Lazarus, Peter Erickson / Published on 3 May 2016

Erickson, P., and M. Lazarus (2016). Impact of phasing out federal coal and oil leases on CO2 emissions and 2°C goals. SEI policy brief.

Since 2010, U.S. fossil fuel production has grown by 20% in energy terms, to record levels. About a quarter of the fuels being extracted, including two-fifths of all coal, come from federal lands and waters leased to producers by the U.S. Department of Interior (DOI).

To be consistent with the goal of keeping global warming below 2°C, the U.S. would need to cut aggregate fossil fuel production by 40–60% from current levels by 2040. Under current policies, however (including the Clean Power Plan), production is expected to rise by 11%.

Ceasing to issue new leases for fossil fuel extraction on federal lands and waters, and avoiding renewals of existing leases for resources that are not yet producing, would likely lead to a steady decline in U.S. coal production. Oil and gas extraction would likely drop as well, but more slowly.

Phasing out federal leases for fossil fuel extraction could reduce global CO2 emissions by 100 million tonnes per year by 2030, and by greater amounts thereafter – an impact comparable to that of other major climate policies under consideration by the Obama administration. Federal leasing practices could thus play an important role in U.S. efforts to achieve its climate protection goals.

Download the brief (PDF, 439kb)

Read the working paper summarized in this brief »

Learn more about the SEI Initiative on Fossil Fuels and Climate Change »

SEI authors

Michael Lazarus
Michael Lazarus

Senior Scientist


Peter Erickson

SEI Affiliated Researcher


Topics and subtopics
Climate : Climate policy, Fossil fuels
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