In an effort to diminish the country’s contribution to climate change, President Biden must begin the process of suspending oil and gas leases on federal land and waters.
The long-awaited action is one of several executive actions the president is scheduled to take on Wednesday to deal with the worsening climate crisis and the broader decline in the natural world, but it will not be without resistance.
According to White House officials, Biden will order the Interior Department to “pause” new oil and gas leases on public land and offshore waters “as far as possible” and also review existing fuel-related lease and permit practices. development “in the properties.
Oil and gas exploration on tribal lands would not be stopped by Biden’s order.
The oil and gas industry, hard hit by the coronavirus pandemic, is expected to challenge change, as well as Western states rich in fossil fuels whose economies are closely linked to the extractive industry on public lands.
Anticipating the change, Kathleen Sgamma, president of the Western Energy Alliance, which represents oil and gas companies in many western states, said: “We will be in court soon.”
The extraction of fossil fuel on federal lands generates billions of dollars in royalties and revenues for local and state economies. But it is also responsible for almost a quarter of the country’s total greenhouse gas emissions, and the Biden administration seems to take the country’s cut seriously huge contribution to global warming.
During his first day in office, Biden committed again the US to the Paris Climate Agreement and revoked a license to the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, which would move crude oil from Canada to the United States. He too commissioned reviews of more than 100 environmental setbacks from the Trump administration.
“Climate and wildlife extinction crises require this kind of bold and urgent action,” said Kierán Suckling, executive director of the Center for Biological Diversity, in a note.
The suspension of the new federal lease is one of several executive actions Biden will take on Wednesday. The orders will formally begin the process of implementing the steps that Biden promised during his campaign for the White House.
In addition to the lease application, Biden will instruct the Department of the Interior to conserve 30 percent of the country’s land and water by 2030 and identify ways to double offshore wind production by the same term.
Biden has repeatedly framed climate change as one of the main threats facing the United States. Wednesday’s orders will further formalize this view, ordering the Director of National Intelligence to produce reports on the security risks of changes in weather patterns and temperatures.
Biden is also ordering federal agencies to examine how they can buy zero-emission vehicles and electricity, and announces the date of a long-promised global summit to underline that the United States has returned to the flock of nations working together to reduce carbon emissions: April 22, which is Earth Day.
And Biden is also starting the process of launching another big campaign promise: a “Civil Climate Corps”, inspired by the iconic New Deal national conservation project, which would work to sequester carbon emissions in the agricultural sector and create more spaces throughout the country.
The change in attitude towards climate change and its causes is among the most striking differences between the Biden government and its predecessor. Over the past four years, the Trump administration has downplayed the role of climate change, reducing protections for underdeveloped landscapes and endangered species, while reversing regulations on fossil fuel extraction. He opened wide areas of the country’s nearly 640 million acres of public land for development as part of his “energy domain” agenda. The measures could cast a long shadow over Biden’s climate goals.
An analysis by the Associated Press found that oil companies stocked up leases and pushed requests for drilling permits on public lands in the final months of the Trump administration, giving them a large stock to work with.
Biden’s suspension on the new oil and gas lease also does not affect activities on private or state land, where about 90% of the country’s oil and gas development occurs.
“The industry has many leases in production, many leases that have been issued, so it will not have an immediate impact. But it will give an immediate opportunity for the government to think about how we will move forward, ”said Nada Culver, vice president for public lands at the National Audubon Society.
The law governing fossil fuels and mineral development on public land, the General Mining Act of 1872, is more than 100 years old, Culver added. “It is definitely time for more than a few adjustments,” she said.
Last month, more than 500 environmental groups sent a letter to the Biden government with a draft executive decree, asking the then-elected president to keep his campaign promises and permanently ban new oil and gas leases and authorizations on federal land and waters.
Last week, Acting Interior Secretary Scott de la Vega signed a order do this temporarily for the next 60 days. Legal experts question whether a permanent ban would be valid in court. As of Wednesday morning, the White House had not released the exact text of Biden’s order and only characterized the next stage as a “pause”, so it is unclear how far the last action goes beyond the initial 60-day suspension. .
“Ending licensing would be extremely difficult,” said Rebecca Watson, who served as assistant secretary for land and mineral management in President George W. Bush’s Interior Department. “You sold a property right, a lease, then you paid for the rent and you can’t develop it. I think there would be lawsuits, and rightly so, because of a change like that.”
A permanent lease ban would also be subject to lawsuits, she said. According to the Mineral Leasing Act, the government is required to make quarterly lease sales. The Biden government could make less or all of the land unavailable for rent, but Watson thinks a court might find it illegal.
Mark Squillace, a law professor at the University of Colorado who worked in the Interior during the Clinton and Carter governments, agrees that a permanent ban would create more problems than a temporary break. But he thinks the government can make a big statement with its immediate actions.
What the Biden government does on public land could be an example for states that have a lot of oil and gas development on private land and depend on that development, he said.
“I would really like to see an orderly reduction in the development of oil and gas on public land, recognizing that in 20 or 30 years we want to be in a really different place,” he said.
Squillace points to the rapid decline of the coal industry that has occurred in the past decade as an example of what not to do. As energy companies have embraced cheaper renewable energy sources and natural gas, coal-dependent communities in Appalachia and some western cities have seen their economic base deteriorate almost overnight.
Careful planning, he said, could avoid the same fate for places like Wyoming and New Mexico, which have a similar dependency on oil and gas.
Such an approach would also mean a more gradual decline in greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate warming, and the science is clear that drastic reductions need to happen immediately to avoid the most catastrophic climate change scenarios.
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