Protesters rally in front of the U.S. Interior Department in Washington, D.C.​

Protesters rally in front of the U.S. Interior Department in Washington, D.C.

(Photo: Center for Biological Diversity)

360+ Groups Asked Biden to End Oil and Gas on Public Lands by 2035. His Answer? No.

Campaigners blasted the rejection of their petition as "beyond disappointing" and "an appalling abdication of climate leadership."

As U.S. President Joe Biden seeks reelection as a climate and environmental justice champion, his administration on Thursday officially rejected a petition from over 360 organizations to phase out oil and gas extraction for public lands and waters by 2035.

"It's beyond disappointing that the administration has opted to deny our petition and hide behind other rulemaking efforts that are likely to prove ineffective in the long run in this code red climate moment," declared Hallie Templeton, legal director for Friends of the Earth.

"The U.S. and the world need bold action to phase out fossil fuels," she stressed. "We will keep fighting and holding federal officials accountable."

Climate and rights groups filed the legal petition in January 2022, as Common Dreams reported at the time. After the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) ignored the document for months, the organizations sued to compel a response in April.

In a reply released Thursday, Laura Daniel-Davis, principal deputy assistant secretary of land and mineral management at DOI, wrote that "I have considered your petition and have decided not to initiate the rulemaking you requested for the reasons discussed in this letter because the department has a robust rulemaking agenda already underway to address the climate crisis and implement reforms to our conventional energy programs, and has insufficient resources to undertake the proposed rulemaking at this time."

After detailing some of the department and administrative efforts underway, including under the Inflation Reduction Act that Biden signed last year, Daniel-Davis noted that "although your petition also sets out legal and scientific analyses to support the proposed rulemaking, I will not address those arguments here given the decision to deny the petition based on the competing priorities detailed above."

"I appreciate the thought and effort behind your petition," she concluded. "This administration shares your concerns regarding the urgency of the climate crisis and is directing its limited resources in an effort to address them."

Campaigners from groups behind the petition challenged Daniel-Davis' claims and accused the administration of serving Big Oil.

"To claim that the Biden administration doesn't have the resources to take real climate action on federal fossil fuels is vacuous and beyond hypocritical."

"Leaving the fossil fuel industry in control of the oil and gas spigot is an appalling abdication of climate leadership on public lands," said Taylor McKinnon of the Center for Biological Diversity. "To claim that the Biden administration doesn't have the resources to take real climate action on federal fossil fuels is vacuous and beyond hypocritical."

"This is the definition of lip service," McKinnon continued. "The administration acknowledges the urgency to address climate change and meanwhile avoids every opportunity to take meaningful action on the fossil fuels under its control."

Jeremy Nichols, climate and energy program director for WildEarth Guardians, was similarly frustrated, charging that "the Department of the Interior continues to bend over backward to accommodate the fossil fuel industry."

"If the department would actually take comprehensive and meaningful steps to aid our nation's transition away from oil, gas, and coal, and truly reduce greenhouse gas emissions, it would save them time and money and help spare this country the costly consequences of climate change," Nichols added.

The DOI letter and activists' frustration over it come as the Biden administration continues oil and gas lease sales on federal lands. This week's sale for 116 parcels totaling over 127,000 acres in Wyoming followed the federal government holding auctions for land in Kansas, New Mexico, North Dakota, and Oklahoma since late May.

Critics have highlighted that despite Biden's campaign promises to ban new oil and gas leasing for public lands and waters, his administration approved over 6,400 permits in its first two years, more than the same period for the previous administration.

"The Biden administration should be swiftly ending the era of fossil fuels, not expanding new drilling and dirty infrastructure," said Nicole Ghio, senior fossil fuels program manager at Friends of the Earth, in a Thursday statement.

"By continuing to sacrifice our public lands and approve enormous fossil fuel projects, President Biden is poisoning communities and throwing his so-called 'climate presidency' out the window," she asserted. "Biden must immediately cancel these lease sales and reverse our rapid descent into irreparable climate catastrophe."

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