For Immediate Release, June 29, 2023
Taylor McKinnon, Center for Biological Diversity, (801) 300-2414, email@example.com
Biden Administration Rejects Calls to Phase Out Oil, Gas on Public Lands by 2035
WASHINGTON— Responding to a lawsuit by conservation groups, the Biden administration has officially rejected a rulemaking petition from more than 360 U.S. climate, Indigenous and conservation groups to phase out oil and gas extraction on public lands by 2035.
Conservation groups sued the Department of the Interior in April to compel a response to the petition after the agency had ignored it for more than a year. As intended, the lawsuit forced that response. The Department’s only rationale for denying the petition was that it has “insufficient resources” to initiate the requested rulemaking.
Scientific conclusions reached since the petition was filed in 2022 show that wealthy countries must end oil and gas extraction by 2031 to maintain a likely chance of avoiding the harms of warming 1.5 degrees Celsius.
“Leaving the fossil fuel industry in control of the oil and gas spigot is an appalling abdication of climate leadership on public lands,” said Taylor McKinnon of the Center for Biological Diversity. “To claim that the Biden administration doesn’t have the resources to take real climate action on federal fossil fuels is vacuous and beyond hypocritical. This is the definition of lip service. The administration acknowledges the urgency to address climate change and meanwhile avoids every opportunity to take meaningful action on the fossil fuels under its control.”
The Bureau of Land Management’s response cites several ongoing or upcoming rulemakings that envision piecemeal changes to the management of oil and gas on public lands, none of which aim to restrict production consistent with decline curves necessary to avoid warming 1.5 degrees Celsius. Most of these proposed regulatory changes were already mandated by the Inflation Reduction Act, which envisions another decade of oil and gas leasing, making these regulatory changes virtually superfluous.
“It’s beyond disappointing that the administration has opted to deny our petition and hide behind other rulemaking efforts that are likely to prove ineffective in the long run in this code-red climate moment,” said Hallie Templeton, legal director for Friends of the Earth. “The U.S. and the world need bold action to phase out fossil fuels. We will keep fighting and holding federal officials accountable.”
The Biden administration’s response comes as it touts “all-time high” federal oil production amid a cascade of new fossil fuel approvals like the massive Willow project in Alaska’s Western Arctic. These projects defy U.N. calls to end new oil and gas development and Biden campaign promises to end new drilling on public land. The administration has failed to propose any policies to align the federal fossil fuel programs with the decline curves necessary to avoid warming beyond 1.5 degrees Celsius.
“The Department of the Interior continues to bend over backward to accommodate the fossil fuel industry,” said Jeremy Nichols, climate and energy program director for WildEarth Guardians. “If the Department would actually take comprehensive and meaningful steps to aid our nation's transition away from oil, gas and coal, and truly reduce greenhouse gas emissions, it would save them time and money and help spare this country the costly consequences of climate change.”
Federal data shows the Biden administration has approved 6,430 permits for oil and gas drilling on public lands in its first two years, outpacing even the Trump administration’s first two years. More than half those permits were in the Permian Basin, where per-well emissions of methane pollution are among the highest in the country and permitting accelerated from 2021 to 2022.
The Administrative Procedure Act requires federal agencies to initiate rulemaking or provide a substantive response to rulemaking petitions within a reasonable timeframe. Plaintiff groups dropped their lawsuit this week after compelling the administration’s response and are now evaluating the legal adequacy of the substance of the response.
Avoiding heating the planet beyond 1.5 degrees Celsius requires ending new investment in fossil fuel projects and phasing out production to keep as much as 40% of already developed oil and gas fields in the ground. At the COP26 summit in Glasgow, Biden called climate change “an existential threat to human existence” and pledged to cut U.S. emissions by up to 51% over the next nine years.
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 harm 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.
The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.