WASHINGTON— A proposed climate and energy package would require massive oil and gas leasing in the Gulf of Mexico and Alaska, reinstate an illegal 2021 Gulf lease sale and mandate that millions more acres of public lands be offered for leasing before any new solar or wind energy projects could be built on public lands or waters.
The provisions, in sections 50264 and 50265, are buried near the end of the 725-page Inflation Reduction Act. The bill was released Wednesday after Sen. Joe Manchin and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer announced they had agreed to the $370 billion package.
“This is a climate suicide pact,” said Brett Hartl, government affairs director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “It’s self-defeating to handcuff renewable energy development to massive new oil and gas extraction. The new leasing required in this bill will fan the flames of the climate disasters torching our country, and it’s a slap in the face to the communities fighting to protect themselves from filthy fossil fuels.”
The bill would require the Interior Department to offer at least 2 million acres of public lands and 60 million acres of offshore waters for oil and gas leasing each year for a decade as a prerequisite to installing any new solar or wind energy. If the department failed to offer these minimum amounts for leasing, no right of ways could be granted for any utility-scale renewable energy project on public lands or waters.
In January a federal judge overturned the 80 million-acre Gulf of Mexico lease sale because Interior failed to address the climate harms from developing the leases. The additional Gulf of Mexico and Alaska lease sales mandated by the bill for 2022 and 2023 were part of a prior five-year leasing plan, but they did not occur.
The Inflation Reduction Act would require offering these minimum lease amounts for 10 years. That translates to more than 600 million acres of offshore leasing — four times the size of the entire Gulf of Mexico outer continental shelf.
On average the fossil fuel industry has purchased for lease 1 million acres of land every year since 2009. By requiring 2 million acres per year to be offered for lease — an area the size of Yellowstone National Park — the legislation all but ensures that the fossil fuel industry will maintain current oil and gas production levels without any change for the next decade. U.S. emissions must be cut in half over the next nine years to have even a chance of avoiding catastrophic warming.
“More oil and gas leasing is completely incompatible with maintaining a livable planet, so we’re forced to fight this,” said Hartl. “This deal is unacceptable. If it passes, we’ll fight every single lease the Interior Department tries to approve. Our climate and the health of our communities depend on it.”
Passing new laws to mandate oil and gas leasing would fundamentally conflict with the Biden administration’s climate goals. Multiple analyses show climate pollution from the world’s already producing fossil fuel developments, if fully developed, will push warming past 1.5 degrees Celsius.
Avoiding such warming requires ending new investment in fossil fuel projects and phasing out production to keep as much as 40% of already-developed fields in the ground.
Fossil fuel production on public lands is responsible for 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.