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More Than 300 Groups Push Biden to End Drilling on Public Lands and Waters

Environmental and Indigenous rights groups urge policies that line up with climate science and Biden’s campaign pledges.

Climate activists demand that President Biden stop the Willow Project at a protest in Lafayette Square in front of the White House on January 10, 2023, in Washington D.C.

More than 300 environmental and Indigenous rights groups said Wednesday that the Biden administration must take a number of concrete actions to protect the nation’s public lands and waters from fossil fuel industry exploitation and bring U.S. policy into line with climate science — and the president’s own campaign pledges.

In a letter to U.S. Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland, the climate coalition noted that President Joe Biden “made a bold promise to ban new oil and gas leasing on public lands and waters, and within days of taking office issued his Executive Order on Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad.”

“However, since then, the Biden administration and Interior’s leadership has fallen short. Interior issued new permits to drill at a rate faster than the Trump administration during Biden’s first year in office,” the letter continues. “The Bureau of Land Management and Bureau of Ocean Energy Management pushed forward with new oil and gas lease sales, including a sale in the Gulf of Mexico that was vacated by a federal court for a faulty environmental review. And Interior’s final report on the leasing program failed to take into account climate impacts from extraction on public lands and waters.”

The groups also pointed to the Biden administration’s recent decision to go ahead with a major oil and gas lease sale off Alaska’s coast, ignoring warnings that the auction would imperil marine life, pollute coastal communities, and contribute to the nation’s rising carbon emissions.

“The climate science is clear: Several analyses show that climate pollution from the world’s already-producing fossil fuel fields, if fully developed, will overshoot the targets in the Paris Climate Agreement and push warming past 1.5 degrees Celsius,” the letter states. “Avoiding such warming requires ending new investment in fossil fuel projects and phasing out production to keep as much as 40% of already-developed fields in the ground.”

In a press release, the coalition outlines nine steps the Biden administration can and must take to manage “public lands and waters in a manner consistent with climate science”:

  1. Phase out oil and gas production on public lands and waters to near zero by 2035.
  2. Defend and strengthen the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).
  3. Establish guardrails on the leasing program to protect the climate, public lands, oceans, and communities.
  4. Issue a five-year plan with no new leases.
  5. Stop authorizing new exploration, development, and drilling permits in the Gulf of Mexico and Alaska until there is a proper analysis of climate damage.
  6. Stop issuing new permits to drill on public lands until there is a proper analysis of climate damage and a climate screen
  7. Manage public lands for climate solutions.
  8. Halt climate-destroying projects in the Arctic (ex: Willow, Peregrine).
  9. Protect climate and communities from near-term offshore lease sales (ex: Cook Inlet, Gulf of Mexico).

“As the dire impacts of climate disruption escalate, President Biden must keep his campaign promise to end oil and gas leasing on public lands,” said Osprey Orielle Lake, executive director of the Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network, a signatory of the new letter.

“Indigenous and frontline communities continue to bear the brunt of the climate crisis, and we are calling for the administration to end fossil fuel expansion and implement a just transition,” Lake continued. “There is simply no time to lose and our public lands need to be a part of the solution.”

Recent research estimates that fossil fuel extraction on public lands and waters has accounted for nearly a quarter of all U.S. greenhouse gas pollution since 2005, making the end of such development critical to efforts to bring the country’s emissions into line with its domestic and international commitments.

“More drilling and more fracking is just a recipe for more climate disaster,” Jeremy Nichols, climate and energy program director for WildEarth Guardians, said in a statement Wednesday. “For our future, President Biden needs to get real, start keeping oil and gas in the ground, and truly drive meaningful action to save our climate.”