Energy Policy Fossil Fuels Government

Environmental Groups Seek Records on Biden’s Oil and Gas Leasing Program

An offshore drilling platform stand silhouetted against a gray sky

Environmental groups recently filed a Freedom of Information Act request seeking public records from the Interior Department concerning its report reviewing the federal oil and gas leasing programs. The FOIA requests drafts of the report, including the version transmitted to the White House and internal communications about its development.

Ending fossil fuel investments

Pollution from current oil, gas, and coal developments would increase warming past 1.5 degrees Celsius, according to the IPCC and analysis by Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty. Limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius requires stopping all new investments in fossil fuels, as an analysis by the International Energy Agency found. 

Around a quarter of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions are caused by fossil fuel production on public lands. A study revealed that a ban on federal fuel leasing across the U.S. would reduce carbon emissions by 280 million tons a year. 

Biden goes back on climate action promises

President Biden released an executive order on January 27, 2021, titled Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad. The executive order declared that the “United States and the world face a profound climate crisis,” and there is “a narrow moment to pursue action…to  avoid the most catastrophic impacts of that crisis.” 

While campaigning, Biden made promises concerning climate change action that included no more offshore drilling. However, in November, the Biden administration resumed offshore oil leasing when it offered 80 million acres in the Gulf of Mexico. In October, the administration approved 3,091 new drilling permits on public lands at a rate of 332 a month, beating the Trump administration’s 300 permits a month from 2018 to 2020. The administration plans to offer up over 700,000 acres of public land for leasing in February. 

During the COP26 summit in Glasgow, Biden declared that climate change is “the challenge of our collective lifetimes, an existential threat to human existence as we know it. And every day we delay the cost of inaction increases.” He pledged that the U.S. would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 50 to 52 percent by 2030. Without cutting back on offshore drilling and drilling on public lands, how does he plan to meet that pledge?

Climate change is conspicuously absent in the Interior report

Climate change is only mentioned twice in the Interior Department report about onshore and offshore oil and gas leasing programs. If the Biden administration is serious about climate change and its COP26 Summit pledges, why isn’t climate change mentioned more in the report? Clearly, this is a sign that the DOI won’t consider climate change for oil and gas leasing offshore and on public lands. 

“This flimsy report abandons Biden’s campaign promise to end new federal oil and gas leasing and drilling. Instead, it recommends but does not require tepid, outdated adjustments to lease bids, royalty rates, and bonding that the Office of Management and Budget has been highlighting for literally decades,” said Melissa Hornbein, an attorney at the Western Environmental Law Center. “This type of action is not only long overdue, it is wholly inadequate to tackle the climate crisis.”

Unless the Biden administration makes good on its promises to end offshore drilling, the U.S. will not meet the climate pledges made. The world and this country cannot wait for the administration to tackle climate change. Unless enough action is taken, the world will meet the 1.5 Celsius threshold between 2030 and 2050. As the world’s leading economy, the U.S. needs to lead climate action. Whether it will do so under the Biden administration is a mystery.

Photo by Grant Durr on Unsplash

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