Today, the Biden administration announced it will resume oil and gas leasing on federal public lands and waters to comply with a preliminary injunction in the legal challenge brought against the climate-centered pause by the state of Louisiana. However, the federal government also announced that it had appealed that injunction to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, emphasizing a litany of chronic problems with the federal government’s oil and gas leasing program, including the federal government’s failure to align the program with the urgency demanded by the climate crisis.

In signaling that it intended to remedy those problems, the administration also said it would complete a programmatic analysis of the federal oil and gas programs, separate from the interim report that is expected sometime this summer. The latter is expected to outline a more detailed pathway for how the programmatic analysis will be completed and what it will consider to achieve President’s climate targets.  From the announcement:

“Interior continues to review the programs’ noted shortcomings, including completing a report. The Department also will undertake a programmatic analysis to address what changes in the Department’s programs may be necessary to meet the President’s targets of cutting greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2030 and achieving net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.”

“Here in New Mexico, oil and gas development represents 53% of direct statewide greenhouse gas emissions and Governor Lujan Grisham has committed to a 45% reduction of statewide emissions below 2005 levels by 2030,” said Erik Schlenker-Goodrich, executive director of the Western Environmental Law Center. “Immediate and sustained climate action is desperately needed to achieve global and state goals. We are appalled that leasing may resume given the climate suffering we are witnessing across the world even as we are pleased that the Biden administration has appealed the Louisiana federal district court’s poorly reasoned injunction. Regardless, it will prove critical for the Biden administration to demonstrate substantial progress in the coming months, especially in the wake of last week’s sobering Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report and in the run-up to the United Nations Global Climate Conference in November.”

“As policy changes move forward, we strongly caution the Biden administration to use the discretion it is afforded by law to carefully scrutinize any proposed oil and gas lease sales for federal public lands. For any proposed new lease on public lands, the Bureau of Land Management must still comply with existing law, including the National Environmental Policy Act,” said Kyle Tisdel, Climate and Energy Program director at the Western Environmental Law Center. “This includes the duty to analyze cumulative climate emissions and impacts of any decision to lease and to retain the discretion not to lease. We will hold them to those obligations.”

The Western Environmental Law Center and Earthjustice represent 22 conservation, recreation, Tribal, farming, and ranching groups intervening to defend the Biden administration’s pause on federal oil and gas leasing in two lawsuits filed by Wyoming and the Western Energy Alliance.

Background:

The extraction of fossil fuels from our public lands accounts for about 25% of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions even though only about 22% of U.S. oil production and 12% of gas production occurs on federal land and water.

Oil and gas pollution disproportionately harms low-income communities. Air pollution from oil and gas extraction causes public health harms, and long-term exposure to air pollution is associated with higher COVID-19 mortality rates. A pause on oil and gas leasing and re-evaluation of the entire leasing program is a step toward addressing the disproportionate harms on these front-line communities.

In the Trump era, the oil and gas industry stockpiled more than 7,000 federal drilling permits—permits for new drilling that will take years for industry to complete. The industry has also stockpiled more than 13 million acres of public lands oil and gas leases. That means the oil and gas industry can continue operating as normal for years. Nationally, industry produces oil and gas on less than half the public lands for which it owns leases.

As stated by industry: “We have a deep inventory of approved federal drilling permits in hand that essentially cover all of our desired activity over the next presidential term,” said David Harris, an executive vice president for Devon Energy Corporation, a major leaseholder in New Mexico’s Permian Basin, on an investor call in October (Source: High Country News).

Contacts: 

Erik Schlenker-Goodrich, 575-770-1295,

Kyle Tisdel, 575-770-7501,

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