Biden to halt fossil fuel leasing on federal land

28 January, 2021 12:00 AM printer

WASHINGTON: US President Joe Biden was planning to announce new bans on oil and gas drilling on federal lands Wednesday as part of a raft of actions that take aim at climate change, according to reports and a White House memo.

The administration has drafted an order imposing a moratorium on oil and gas auctions on federal land and water, the Washington Post and other US media reported, reports AFP.

The moratorium wouldn’t affect existing leases, but would fulfill a pledge that became a major issue during the election campaign, especially in the battleground state of Pennsylvania where fracking led to a natural gas boom.

The US would also pledge to conserve 30 percent of all federal land and water by 2030, part of an international push to stem biodiversity loss and confront climate change, according to reports.

Other actions include “elevating climate change as a national security priority,” according to a White House memo seen by AFP, an order re-establishing a presidential council of science advisors and another directing science-based decision making in federal agencies.

The US will further announce a US-hosted Climate Leaders’ Summit on April 22 -- Earth Day and also the fifth anniversary of the signing of the Paris Agreement—according to the memo.

Almost a quarter of American carbon dioxide emissions come from energy produced on public lands, according to a government report from 2018.

The drilling generated $11.7 billion in revenue in 2019, according to official data.

The measures are therefore significant steps towards Biden’s campaign pledges to transition away from fossil fuels on the way to net zero emissions in the power sector by 2035 and the economy as a whole by 2050.

Taken together, the actions are “consistent with President Biden and Vice President Harris raising global climate ambition starting here at home,” Sherri Goodman, deputy undersecretary of defense for environmental security under former president Barack Obama, told AFP.

Nonprofit Oceana has called on Biden to go further and turn the moratorium into a ban.

It released an analysis Tuesday that found making offshore drilling protections permanent for unleased federal waters could prevent over 19 billion tons of greenhouse gas emissions and more than $720 billion in damages.

“By permanently protecting our coasts from dirty offshore drilling and advancing clean energy sources like offshore wind, we can simultaneously combat climate change and safeguard our clean coast economy,” said Oceana campaign director Diane Hoskins.

But the proposals have triggered a backlash by the fossil fuel industry.

“Restricting development on federal lands and waters is nothing more than an ‘import more oil’ policy,” said American Petroleum Institute President and CEO Mike Sommers.