WASHINGTON— Climate and conservation groups filed a Freedom of Information Act request today seeking public records from the Interior Department relating to its recent report reviewing the federal oil and gas leasing programs that presumes expanded leasing.
“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 Instead, it recommends but does not require tepid, outdated adjustments to lease bids, royalty rates and bonding that the Office of Management and Budget has been highlighting for literally decades,” said Melissa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.”
Today’s request seeks drafts of the report, released last week, including the version transmitted to the White House and internal communications about its development. The report mentions climate only twice. It finalizes the administration’s promised comprehensive review of the federal oil and gas programs under Executive Order 14008, “Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad.”
“Tackling the climate emergency at home and abroad requires ending, not reforming, federal fossil fuel expansion,” said Taylor McKinnon with the Center for Biological Diversity. “Public records released as a result of this request will shine light on the dangerous chasm separating Biden’s climate promises from his refusal to phase out the use of our public lands and waters for oil and gas extraction.”
At last month’s COP26 summit in Glasgow, President Biden called climate change “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 United States would cut emissions by up to 51% over the next nine years.
“Opening up more areas for leasing and drilling directly conflicts with Biden’s stated goals and COP26 rhetoric,” said Anne Hedges, director of policy for the Montana Environmental Information Center. “It’s a betrayal to his commitment to the world to decrease methane emissions and then immediately ignore these emissions for oil and gas development on public lands. We want to know what went wrong.”
In November the Biden administration resumed offshore oil leasing by offering 80 million acres in the Gulf of Mexico. It plans to offer up more than 700,000 acres of public land for leasing in February.
At the end of October, the administration had approved 3,091 new drilling permits on public lands at a rate of 332 per month, outpacing the Trump administration’s 300 permits per month in fiscal years 2018-2020.
Renewed IPCC warnings and several analyses have shown that climate pollution from the world’s already-producing oil, gas and coal developments would push warming past 1.5 degrees Celsius. An analysis by the International Energy Agency shows that limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius requires ending new investment in fossil fuel projects.
In April more than 200 groups filed comments with the administration, demanding a formal climate review of the federal fossil fuel programs under the National Environmental Policy Act, Federal Lands Policy Management Act, Endangered Species Act and other laws.
In January 574 climate, conservation, Indigenous, religious and business groups sent Biden text for a proposed executive order that would use the full force of environmental laws to ban new fossil fuel leasing and permitting.
Fossil fuel production on public lands causes about a quarter of U.S. greenhouse gas pollution. Peer-reviewed science estimates that a nationwide federal fossil fuel leasing ban would reduce carbon emissions by 280 million tons per year, ranking it among the most ambitious federal climate policy proposals in recent years.
Oil, gas and coal extraction uses mines, well pads, gas lines, roads and other infrastructure that destroys habitat for wildlife, including threatened and endangered species. Oil spills and other harms from offshore drilling have done immense damage to ocean wildlife and coastal communities. Fracking and mining also pollute watersheds and waterways that provide drinking water to millions of people.
Federal fossil fuels that have not been leased to industry contain up to 450 billion tons of potential climate pollution; those already leased to industry contain up to 43 billion tons. Pollution from the world’s already producing oil and gas fields, if fully developed, would push global warming well past 1.5 degrees Celsius.