Friends of the Earth: Biden’s lump of coal for Christmas

Over the long holiday weekend out of the spotlight and without much fanfare, President Biden’s Interior Department released a much-anticipated report on the federal oil and gas leasing program. The report was in response to a Presidential Executive Order on ‘Tackling the Climate Crisis as Home and Broad’ that was issued at the end of January. Many close observers anticipated the report to quickly follow the order, set a new, brighter path for the broken federal oil and gas leasing program, and adhere to Biden’s campaign promise to ban all new oil and gas leasing. The reality is much different.

While the report on the broken oil and gas leasing program from the Interior Department languished, the Biden Administration has:

  • Issued over 3,000 drilling permits to oil and gas corporations;
  • Held the largest oil and gas lease sale in recent history in the Gulf of Mexico, resulting in second largest sale to Big Oil since 2017 when Gulf-wide leasing was reopened; and
  • Posted over 700,000 acres of public lands for possible oil and gas leasing, and scheduled it’s first onshore public lands oil and gas lease sale of some 350,000 acres in Colorado, Wyoming, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Mississippi, Alabama, and Montana for early 2022. (BLM Wyoming plans to defer approximately 382,000 acres that overlap critical sage-grouse habitat.)

This is hardly consistent with the promise Biden made on the campaign trail or the directive expressed in his executive order. It is, however, consistent with the fact that oil and gas corporations are already sitting on decades of cheap public leases. If you pass the first sentence of the order that identifies the profound crisis climate that change poses to the United States and world, Section 208, in part, directs the Interior Department under its broad stewardship responsibilities to complete a comprehensive review and reconsideration of oil and gas permitting and leasing practices. This includes potential climate and other impacts on public lands, or in offshore waters before any new public oil and gas leases are to be issued. 

Notably missing from Interior’s report: climate change. Upping royalty rates that have gone unchanged for over a century to align more closely with both state and private land rates, ending noncompetitive leasing, and requiring DOI to update bonding requirements so oil companies pay for cleanup, are all critically important to protect taxpayers. But ignoring the elephant in the room fails the logic test. Further, only assessing climate impacts for public lands leasing decisions ignores all offshore oil and gas development climate emissions, not to mention that climate-related disasters have cost taxpayers well over $100 billion this year alone. 

We’ll be on the lookout for congressional leaders’ take on both the report’s climate change omissions and pending lease sales as the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources discusses “What More Public Lands Leasing Means for Achieving U.S. Climate Targets.” Notably absent from the hearing: any Interior Department or Biden Administration officials.

In response to the Biden Administration’s broken promise to end new oil and gas leasing on public lands, which accounts for nearly a quarter of U.S. climate emissions, Friends of the Earth will be kicking off an accountability campaign called Biden’s Oily Christmas. Over the next 12 days we will highlight the special interest giveaways to oil and gas and the Administration’s failure to aggressively address climate change. Actions speak louder than words, and the Biden Administration is acting like climate change isn’t an immediate and growing emergency.