Progressives Demand Biden Immediately Ban New Fossil Fuel Leases on Public Lands

As climate action stalls indefinitely in Congress, Democrats in the House are demanding that President Joe Biden use his executive power to ban all new fossil fuel leases on public lands and waters, and to start phasing out fossil fuel development on public land altogether.

In a letter effort led by Representatives Rashida Tlaib (D-Michigan) and Pramila Jayapal (D-Washington), the lawmakers said that it’s vital for Biden to take action so that the country has a chance of meeting its Paris Agreement pledge to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent of 2005 levels by the end of the decade. Action is also critical to keep global warming under 1.5 degrees Celsius, they said.

The Biden administration recently took steps to allow oil and gas drilling in parts of the Gulf of Mexico while resuming leasing on public lands across eight states. In their letter, lawmakers expressed “grave concern” over this action, saying that it runs counter not only to what climate experts have been recommending to limit the worst impacts of the climate crisis, but also to Biden’s own campaign pledges to stop new fossil fuel leasing.

Fossil fuel extraction on U.S. public lands is a major contributor to the climate crisis. A 2018 report by the U.S. Geological Survey found that a quarter of all U.S. carbon emissions come from public land oil and gas extraction.

“While the oil and gas industry is cynically exploiting the crisis in Ukraine to demand even more access to our public lands, turning even more lands over for drilling will not offer relief at the pump or aid to the people of Ukraine,” the letter reads. “We need real climate leadership today, and that starts with canceling the leases offered and/or sold in June and issuing a final five-year offshore leasing plan with no new leases.”

Center for Biological Diversity Senior Public Lands Campaigner Taylor McKinnon echoed the Democrats. “Big Oil is price-gouging the public and then using its profiteering as an excuse to worsen the climate emergency with new federal fossil fuel leasing,” McKinnon said in a statement.

The letter was signed by 27 Democrats, including Representatives Jamaal Bowman (New York), Cori Bush (Missouri), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (New York), Ilhan Omar (D-Minnesota) and Ayanna Pressley (Massachusetts). It comes after conservative coal baron Sen. Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia) killed Democrats’ climate plans last week, which will likely doom the planet to experience worse climate catastrophes for decades to come.

The lawmakers asked Biden to start the process of phasing out oil and gas production on federal lands, and to cancel the offshore leases that the administration opened up last month. “The climate science is clear and uncompromising,” they wrote. “You and your administration have the authority and a clear pathway to address the quarter of U.S. climate emissions that come from fossil fuel extraction on public lands.”

Climate advocates have been frustrated by Biden’s moves to exacerbate the climate crisis over his first year in office. Last year, while world leaders gathered for COP26, his administration held the largest oil and gas lease sale in history. When he was first inaugurated, Biden put a pause on new fossil leases but, in the months following, his administration maintained a friendly relationship with the fossil fuel industry.

Climate advocates were similarly frustrated this week when the White House teased that Biden may be considering declaring an emergency over the climate crisis, but is holding off on the declaration until at least the end of the week, if ever. Climate advocates say declaring a climate emergency is one of the bare minimum actions that Biden can take to combat the climate crisis, along with ending new fossil fuel leases or permits for fossil fuel infrastructure.