On Eve of Fossil Fuel Lease Moratorium, Biden Urged to Permanently Protect US Coast From Offshore Drilling

Ocean conservationists, climate campaigners, and Indigenous advocates are urging President Joe Biden to permanently ban offshore fossil fuel drilling in federal waters. (Photo: Maersk Drilling/Flickr/cc)

On Eve of Fossil Fuel Lease Moratorium, Biden Urged to Permanently Protect US Coast From Offshore Drilling

"President Biden has an incredible opportunity to act on climate change and protect our coasts once and for all by closing the chapter on future offshore oil leasing."

As President Joe Biden prepares to announce a moratorium on new federal oil and gas leasing, the marine conservation organization Oceana on Tuesday called on the president to permanently protect the nation's coasts from offshore drilling, a move the group says could prevent over 19 billion tons of greenhouse gas emissions and over $720 billion in damages to people, property, and the planet.

"If enacted, President Biden's campaign commitments to tackle the climate crisis and protect our waters from new offshore oil drilling will ensure we build back better, keep coastal economies safe from oil disasters, and support a transition to clean, renewable energy."
--Diane Hoskins, Oceana

The Washington Postreports Biden is set to impose the leasing moratorium on Wednesday in a dramatic reversal from former President Donald Trump's 11th-hour deregulatory blitz that included a rush to auction off drilling rights in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR).

While climate, Indigenous, and wildlife advocates celebrated a December decision by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals to reject Liberty, the Trump administration's proposed offshore drilling project in federal Arctic waters in Alaska, a federal judge in Anchorage earlier this month declined to issue a preliminary injunction to block the auctioning of drilling rights in the nearby ANWR. On January 6 the administration went ahead with the lease sale.

At the time, Mitch Jones, policy director at the advocacy group Food & Water Watch, said that "Biden can reverse these disastrous oil and gas industry plans by keeping his promise to ban fossil fuel extraction--including fracking--on our public lands and waters... a step he can, and must, take upon taking office."

In less than a week in the White House, Biden has already earned plaudits from progressives for revoking the presidential permit for the Keystone XL Pipeline, rejoining the Paris climate agreement, and placing a temporary moratorium on all fossil fuel activities in the ANWR.

While the exact language of Biden's broader moratorium is not yet known, the Post reports the president will "outline steps Wednesday aimed at curbing greenhouse gas emissions and elevating the role of science in federal decision-making."

A true moratorium would be an audacious and impactful move--fossil fuel leases on federal and Indigenous lands account for around a quarter of all U.S. annual carbon output, as well as $11.7 billion in federal, state, local, and tribal tax revenue in 2020, according to the Department of the Interior.

That amount pales in comparison to the savings--both ecological and financial--to be realized by a permanent offshore drilling ban in all federal waters, according to a report published Tuesday by Oceana. The group says such a ban could:

  • Prevent more than 19 billion tons of greenhouse gas emissions, the equivalent of taking every car in the nation off the road for 15 years;
  • Prevent over $720 billion in damages to people, property, and the environment;
  • Safeguard the U.S. clean coast economy, which supports around 3.3 million American jobs and $250 billion in GDP through activities like tourism, recreation, and fishing; and
  • Support a transition away from fossil fuels toward clean, renewable energy sources like offshore wind.

"Oil and gas companies are responsible for the devastating impacts of climate change, like more frequent and powerful storms, droughts, wildfires, and famine," said Jacqueline Savitz, chief policy officer at Oceana. "These companies should not be granted license to continue generating the greenhouse gases that are driving the climate catastrophe."

"By permanently protecting our coasts from dirty offshore drilling and advancing clean energy sources like offshore wind, we can simultaneously combat climate change and safeguard our clean coast economy."
--Hoskins

"Climate change is wreaking havoc today, now, in America," Savitz added. "To avoid even worse damage in the future, we must begin the transition to clean energy immediately."

A drilling moratorium would go a long way toward this goal, argues Oceana campaign director Diane Hoskins.

"By permanently protecting our coasts from dirty offshore drilling and advancing clean energy sources like offshore wind, we can simultaneously combat climate change and safeguard our clean coast economy," she said.

"President Biden has an incredible opportunity to act on climate change and protect our coasts once and for all by closing the chapter on future offshore oil leasing," Hoskins added. "If enacted, President Biden's campaign commitments to tackle the climate crisis and protect our waters from new offshore oil drilling will ensure we build back better, keep coastal economies safe from oil disasters, and support a transition to clean, renewable energy."

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