Photo: Source: BOEM

Environmentalists call on Biden to stick to ‘no new drilling’

Earthjustice, an environmental group, has urged President Joe Biden to put a stop to new drilling and ongoing fossil fuel extraction on federal lands and offshore territories under U.S. control, in a bid to accelerate climate action and lower emissions.

Earthjustice said last week that the fossil fuel industry is impeding U.S. climate progress, but the Biden administration can keep America on track. Rebecca Bowe, Public Affairs and Communications Strategist for Northwest and Alaska Regional Offices, outlined that due to the influence of the fossil fuel industry, the Inflation Reduction Act came with some unexpected setbacks written into the text of the law, as it revived two offshore oil and gas lease sales in the Gulf of Mexico and a third in Alaska’s Cook Inlet.

In addition, another provision in this energy bill “seeks to hold renewable-energy development hostage to the oil industry for the next decade,” by requiring offshore oil and gas lease sales to be held before new offshore wind development can win a green light from federal permitting agencies.

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Steve Mashuda, managing attorney of Earthjustice’s Oceans programme, which has challenged Gulf lease sales in court, remarked: “Legal scrutiny of the IRA shows that it does not bind us to fossil fuel interests to the extent that many might believe. While the IRA does require three offshore lease sales to be held, Interior has the responsibility and the discretion to make the right choices here:

It should, for example, decide that any leases be conditioned with measures that protect people and wildlife and that limit greenhouse gases emitted from the resulting industrial activity.”

Earthjustice claims that there’s little evidence so far that federal permitting agencies are seeking to pump the brakes on climate pollution, as the Department of the Interior (DOI) has already announced plans for an offshore lease sale in Alaska’s Cook Inlet by the end of December that will lease even more acres than required under the IRA.

However, the environmental group highlighted that offshore leasing is only a part of the picture, as a full 90 per cent of public lands overseen by the Bureau of Land Management could potentially be offered up for lease to the oil and gas industry, “with no special protections in place to safeguard the climate.”

Mike Freeman, senior attorney at Earthjustice, commented: “When President Biden took office, he called for a comprehensive review and overhaul of the federal oil and gas programme to address climate. Unfortunately, he hasn’t followed through yet.”

According to Earthjustice, this is the reason why momentum is building for a shift in the way oil and gas are authorised on public lands with multiple groups urging the DOI to “reform the antiquated federal oil and gas system” before it holds any new lease sales.

Moreover, the environmental group underscored that significant reductions would have to be made in fossil fuel extraction if the federal oil and gas programme conformed to the same climate goal – reducing emissions 50 per cent by 2030 when compared with 2005 levels – that Biden has set for the rest of the nation.

Source: Earthjustice
Source: Earthjustice

“If we are to move away from even worse droughts, extreme storm events, and wildfires, the time to shift from fossil fuels to clean energy is now – not tomorrow, next year, or in the next decade. In the wake of the IRA’s passage, the practical effects of the law’s pro-fossil fuel provisions will depend on the choices that the Biden administration makes in the next few months,” emphasised Earthjustice.

Furthermore, the environmental group elaborated that the Biden administration can use its existing authority to revisit the fossil fuel leasing programme to reduce the Inflation Reduction Act’s “threat to the climate, or point to the Act, shrug its shoulders, and revert to the business-as-usual that fossil fuel interests desperately want.”

During his speech at COP27 on 11 November 2022, President Biden urged: “To permanently bend the emissions curve, every nation needs to step up. At this gathering, we must renew and raise our climate ambitions.”

As Biden also pointed to the United States’ efforts to curb methane emissions at the time, adding that the U.S. will “meet our emissions targets by 2030” thanks to the IRA, Earthjustice confirmed that “major progress” is being made, however, several studies have shown that the U.S. won’t meet those targets unless it “pushes harder to reduce climate pollution.”

Since Biden promised no new drilling when campaigning for office, the environmental group underlined that he “now must, and still can, follow through with that commitment.” Despite millions of acres already leased to oil and gas companies, Earthjustice pointed out that “even more fossil fuel leasing is on the horizon, opening the floodgates to new oil and gas drilling operations” that could continue producing for decades.

“Ramping down fossil fuel extraction is one of Biden’s greatest opportunities to demonstrate global leadership. As things stand, a full one-quarter of U.S. GHG emissions can be attributed to federal fossil fuel extraction activity, representing a significant chunk of our national carbon footprint. Considering that the U.S. is one of the greatest emitters on the planet, that’s saying a lot,” concluded Earthjustice.