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A drilling field in California

A field of pump jacks operate at the Belridge Oil Field and hydraulic fracking site in Kern County, California. (Photo: Citizens of the Planet/Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

Activists Decry Biden's 'Reckless' Resumption of Fossil Fuel Leases on Public Lands

"This is an ugly betrayal of Joe Biden's campaign promises and his administration's rhetoric on environmental justice and climate action."

Brett Wilkins

Activists condemned Friday's announcement by the Biden administration that the U.S. Bureau of Land Management will resume oil and gas lease sales on public lands as yet another betrayal of President Joe Biden's promises to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and tackle the climate emergency.

"Biden is choosing to stand with polluters over people at the expense of frontline communities and the future of the planet."

The U.S. Interior Department explained Friday afternoon that the lease sale resumption is in compliance with a 2021 federal injunction blocking the Biden administration from enforcing a temporary pause on new leases for oil and gas drilling on public lands and waters.

The department described the onshore oil and gas lease sales as "significantly reformed," while announcing a "first-ever increase in the royalty rate for new competitive leases to 18.75%," up from the 12.5% minimum rate required by law.

While the progressive watchdog Accountable.US applauded the administration's decision to raise the royalty rate, most climate campaigners decried the resumption of the fossil fuel lease sales amid a worsening planetary emergency.

"It is never a good sign when the president announces something at 5:00 pm on a Friday. But President Biden can't get away with this disastrous climate decision," said Varshini Prakash, executive director of the youth-led Sunrise Movement. "The fact of the matter is that more drilling won't solve high gas prices right now—so why is Biden breaking his campaign promise to stop drilling on public lands?"

The Western Environmental Law Center noted that "the communities most at risk from new fossil fuel extraction are primarily Black, Brown, and Indigenous peoples, people of the global majority, and those on the frontlines of fossil fuel industry expansion. These are the same communities that turned out in record numbers to get Biden elected in 2020 and who have since been urging Biden to use his executive authority to fulfill his campaign promise and ban new federal fossil fuel projects."

Randi Spivak, public lands director at the Center for Biological Diversity, argued that "the Biden administration's claim that it must hold these lease sales is pure fiction and a reckless failure of climate leadership."

"It's as if they're ignoring the horror of firestorms, floods, and megadroughts, and accepting climate catastrophes as business as usual," she added. "These so-called reforms are 20 years too late and will only continue to fuel the climate emergency. These lease sales should be shelved and the climate-destroying federal fossil fuel programs brought to an end."

Collin Rees, U.S. program manager at Oil Change International, asserted that "in the midst of a climate emergency and a fossil-fueled war that has exposed the dangers of fossil fuel dependency, President Biden's decision to double down on leasing new public lands for fossil fuel development is a disastrous choice."

Rees continued:

There's no amount of regulation that can change the facts—"significantly reformed" oil and gas lease sales will still result in selling off our public lands for deadly extraction that's hurting communities and driving the climate crisis. Increasing royalty rates may even result in furthering state and federal reliance on oil and gas leasing revenue, just as the science is clear that we need to be stopping all expansion of fossil fuel extraction.

This is an ugly betrayal of Joe Biden's campaign promises and his administration's rhetoric on environmental justice and climate action. Biden is choosing to stand with polluters over people at the expense of frontline communities and the future of the planet.

True energy independence means rejecting fossil fuel expansion and ending Big Oil's greed while rapidly building out renewable energy on public lands and beyond.

Nicole Ghio, senior fossil fuels program manager at Friends of the Earth, recalled that as a presidential candidate, "Biden promised to end new oil and gas leasing on public lands," but now he is "prioritizing oil executive profits over future generations."

"Biden's Interior Department has even issued permits to drill at a rate faster than the Trump administration," she added. "Now, the Bureau of Land Management is preparing to hold its first public lands lease sale, despite having no legal obligation to do so. If Biden wants to be a climate leader, he must stop auctioning off our public lands to Big Oil."

Sunrise Movement's Prakash warned of electoral consequences for Biden's failure to fulfill his climate promises, which included a pledge that there would be "no more drilling on federal lands, period, period, period, period."

The president has already come under fire from climate and environmental campaigners for his plan to auction more than 80 million acres of the Gulf of Mexico to fossil fuel companies—an effort that was blocked by a federal judge in January.

"This is why young people are doubting the political process altogether," she said. "If Biden wants to solve for voter turnout in 2022, he should actually deliver on the things he promised, not move farther away from them. On November 8, 2022 we don't want to hear anyone asking why young people didn't vote. Biden is actively turning voters away. If we're going to combat fascism and win in 2022, he must be a leader and course-correct. This election and our futures depend on it."

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