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An oil drilling rig operates on May 10, 2017 outside Richfield, Utah. (Photo: George Frey/Getty Images)

An oil drilling rig operates on May 10, 2017 outside Richfield, Utah. (Photo: George Frey/Getty Images)

Now Make It 'Permanent': Environmental Groups Applaud Biden's Plan to Pause New Oil and Gas Leasing on Public Lands

"The simple truth is that we need to stop drilling and fracking everywhere, as soon as possible."

Kenny Stancil

As President Joe Biden prepares to enact a temporary moratorium on new oil and gas leasing on public lands and waters, climate justice advocates on Tuesday praised the expected move and encouraged the Biden administration to demonstrate its commitment to addressing the climate emergency by permanently banning fossil fuel extraction on federal property.

"The federal government has the power—and the moral responsibility—to get off fossil fuels."
—Wenonah Hauter, Food & Water Watch

"A pause on drilling and fracking is good news, but only if it is followed by a strong plan to permanently ban all dirty energy extraction on public lands," Food & Water Watch executive director Wenonah Hauter said Tuesday in a statement responding to Biden's forthcoming moratorium.

"The simple truth," Hauter added, "is that we need to stop drilling and fracking everywhere, as soon as possible. The federal government has the power—and the moral responsibility—to get off fossil fuels, and doing so on publicly owned land sends a positive message that the Biden administration is serious about confronting this issue head-on."

The Washington Post, which heard from three individuals briefed on the matter who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the plan is still being finalized, reported Tuesday that "the moratorium would not affect existing leases, meaning drilling would continue on public land in the West as well as in the Gulf of Mexico."

The Post also noted that "administration officials had considered imposing a moratorium on new federal coal leasing as well, but one of the people briefed on the plan said officials are leaning against that option." 

According to The Associated Press, which spoke with two unnamed sources with knowledge of the matter, "The moratorium is intended to allow time for officials to review the impact of oil and gas drilling on the environment and climate." The Post pointed out that "the pause will allow the new administration to assess whether taxpayers are being adequately compensated for the minerals extracted from land they own."

Green groups say Biden's policies on energy and climate constitute an improvement compared with former President Donald Trump's highly destructive approach to environmental policy, particularly the latter's opening up of public lands to fossil fuel extraction.

Biden's anticipated pause on new oil and gas permitting on federal lands and waters has so far been met with cautious optimism from people like Kierán Suckling, executive director at the Center for Biological Diversity, who noted that "the fossil fuel industry has inflicted tremendous damage on the planet."

Suckling told the AP that "the administration's review, if done correctly, will show that filthy fracking and drilling must end for good, everywhere."

That's exactly what climate justice advocates are pushing for, including marine conservationists who on Tuesday explained the negative impacts of offshore drilling and urged Biden to protect the nation's coasts through a permanent ban on further fossil fuel leases.

"Make this temporary fracking pause permanent and continue to tackle fossil fuel development and infrastructure everywhere it exists."

Halting dirty energy extraction—including fracking—on federal land was one of Biden's clearest campaign promises.

As Common Dreams reported last month, Interior Secretary-designate Deb Haaland's "commitment to ending the exploitation of public lands by fossil fuel corporations," as Food & Water Watch policy director Mitch Jones put it, is why "hundreds of progressive organizations and climate activist groups" enthusiastically endorsed her.

The Post reported that Biden on Wednesday will outline additional steps "aimed at curbing greenhouse gas emissions and elevating the role of science in federal decision-making." Ahead of that announcement, organizers are trying to raise awareness of what is necessary and elevate expectations about what is possible.

"With unified control of Congress and the White House, President Biden and the Democrats have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to prevent catastrophic warming," Alexandra Rojas, executive director of Justice Democrats, said in a statement Tuesday. "The bare minimum is permanently halting new fossil fuel infrastructure on public lands and water that our government owns."

Though it would fall short of progressives' call for a permanent ban on all drilling and fracking on publicly owned territory, Biden is expected to pledge to protect 30% of federal land and water by 2030, an effort in which Haaland, author of the Thirty by Thirty Resolution, has been instrumental.

According to the Post, "Fossil fuel leasing on federal and tribal land accounts for nearly a quarter of the country's annual carbon output." 

If the Biden administration is sincerely committed to tackling the climate emergency, Hauter said, it should "mak[e] this temporary fracking pause permanent and continu[e] to tackle fossil fuel development and infrastructure everywhere it exists."

As Rojas put it, that's when "the real work begins: creating millions of union jobs as we transition our economy to 100% clean and renewable energy, as fast as possible."

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