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Biden likely to halt new fossil fuel leasing on federal lands and waters Wednesday

  • Author: Juliet Eilperin, Dino Grandoni, The Washington Post
  • Updated: January 25
  • Published January 25

WASHINGTON - President Joe Biden is poised to impose a moratorium on new federal oil, gas and coal leasing Wednesday, according two individuals briefed on the matter who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the plan was still being finalized. The move delivers on one of Biden’s boldest climate campaign pledges, but will encounter stiff resistance from the fossil fuel industry.

The White House has prepared documents that would halt new oil and gas auctions on federal lands and waters for one year, these individuals said, and coal leasing for three years. 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 memo remains a draft subject to final approval, said one individual close to the White House who spoke on the condition of anonymity because it had not been formally announced.

Biden plans to outline a series of steps Wednesday aimed at curbing greenhouse gas emissions and elevating the role of science in federal decision-making. Asked about the matter, both the White House and the Interior Department declined to comment.

During the campaign, Biden pledged to ban “new oil and gas permitting on public lands and waters,” without specifying exactly what it would entail.

Fossil fuel leasing on federal and tribal lands accounts for nearly a quarter of the country’s annual carbon output. It also generated $11.7 billion in tax revenue last year, according to the Interior Department’s Office of Natural Resources Revenue.

Environmentalists say that the pause will allow the new administration to assess whether taxpayers are being adequately compensated for the minerals extracted from lands they own.

“By pausing the broken leasing system and halting the giveaways to oil and gas executives, President Biden has an opportunity to meaningfully fix the leasing system for the first time in nearly four decades with solutions that work for the public and which incorporate ambitious conservation, taxpayer fairness, and climate goals,” said Jenny Rowland-Shea, senior policy analyst for public lands at the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank, in an email. “We can make sure our public lands and coasts are preserved, accessible and beneficial to everyone - not abused by oil and gas corporations.”

But oil and gas groups, including the American Petroleum Institute, counter that freezing new leasing will deprive state and local governments, as well as the U.S. Treasury, of needed revenue. Last week, the industry criticized the Department of the Interior when it dictated that any new leases or permits issued during the next 60 days needed the approval of a top-ranking Biden appointee before it could be finalized.

API President Mike Sommers said that move alone will damage domestic energy producers while benefiting ones abroad.

“Restricting development on federal lands and waters is nothing more than an ‘import more oil’ policy,” Sommers said. “Energy demand will continue to rise - especially as the economy recovers - and we can choose to produce that energy here in the United States or rely on foreign countries hostile to American interests.”