Court ruling gives Biden a chance to reset climate policy


President Joe Biden has a chance to reset climate policy after a federal judge rejected an administration plan to lease millions of acres in the Gulf of Mexico for offshore oil drilling.

US District Judge Rudolph Contreras rejected the drilling plan Thursday night, saying the Interior Department failed to adequately account for the effect of proposed drilling on planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions.

Environmentalists say the lease sale runs counter to Biden’s campaign promise to stop new oil and gas leases on federal land and waters. The court decision came on the first anniversary of a federal rent moratorium ordered by Biden as part of his efforts to combat climate change.

The Biden administration proceeded with the sale after losing a court case in Louisiana last summer. Energy companies including Shell, BP, Chevron and ExxonMobil offered a total of $192 million for drilling rights across more than 300 tracts totaling nearly 2,700 square miles, one of the largest sales ever in the Gulf.

Contreras’ 68-page decision sends the Gulf lease sale proposal back to the Interior to decide next steps.

Biden has set an ambitious goal of halving planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, accelerating what is already market-driven growth in solar and wind power and reducing the country’s reliance on the oil and gas. The push comes as the effects of climate change increase, including more powerful hurricanes, wildfires and droughts.

Going ahead with the sale, initiated by the Trump administration, “was terrible policy and also bad policy,” said Drew Caputo, vice president of litigation for Earthjustice, one of the environmental groups that challenged the offshore sale.

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Biden “campaigned to address climate change, and a growing young, diverse and active sector of the electorate are climate change voters,” he said. “They voted for Biden, and if he wants them to vote for him again, the White House needs to answer on the weather.”

Melissa Schwartz, a spokeswoman for Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, said the administration was “obliged” to proceed with the sale of the lease after the Louisiana court ruling.

The Interior has “documented serious deficiencies in the federal oil and gas program,” Schwartz said, adding that Haaland recommended an overhaul of the national oil and gas leasing program to limit the areas available for energy development and increase costs for that energy companies drill in public places. Earth and water.

“Especially in the face of the climate crisis, we must take the time to make significant and long-delayed programmatic reforms,” ​​Schwartz said. “Our public lands and waters must be protected for generations to come.”

The White House has not acted on the Interior report, which was released in late November. “The oil and gas leasing program remains under review,” White House spokesman Vedant Patel said Friday. He referred questions to the Department of the Interior.

Despite being on the losing end of Thursday’s ruling, the administration can count it as a victory for Biden’s climate agenda, analysts Rene Santos and Sami Yahya of S&P Global Platts said.

“This decision essentially resets the clock to January 2021 when Biden issued the executive order stopping new permits and leases,” Santos and Yahya said in an email.

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The June court ruling forced the administration to rely on a Trump-era environmental analysis that has been criticized by the courts for underestimating the climate impacts of large fossil fuel sales. A review by the Trump administration and affirmed under Biden came to the unlikely conclusion that extracting and burning more oil and gas from the Gulf would result in fewer climate-changing emissions than leaving it in place.

Federal officials have since changed their emissions modeling methods, but said it was too late to use that approach for the November auction.

Louisiana officials said Friday they are exploring possible legal remedies.

“It is extremely disappointing that the Biden administration continues to sabotage oil and gas lease sales,” said state Attorney General Elizabeth Murrill, who works for Republican Attorney General Jeff Landry.

Biden’s actions “are crippling consumers, destroying jobs and endangering our national security,” Murrill said.

In the short term, the ruling is expected to have little impact on oil and gas companies operating in the Gulf, as they already have numerous leases and those in dispute likely would not have been developed for many years.

Still, if the disputed leases are not offered again and future sales are curtailed, it would mark a significant setback for the oil industry in a region that accounts for 15% of total US crude production.

“This ruling is yet another example of the growing political and legal uncertainty that is jeopardizing the future of American energy leadership and leading to greater reliance on foreign energy sources resulting in higher emissions,” said Frank Macchiarola, senior vice president of American Petroleum Institute, the leading lobbying group for the oil industry.

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Macchiarola urged the administration to continue lease sales in the Gulf of Mexico, calling the region “critical to meeting demand for affordable energy while generating billions in revenue for the government.”

Energy analyst Jim Krane of Rice University’s Baker Institute said the Gulf lease dispute highlights a conundrum as governments scramble to tackle global warming: Fossil fuels are wreaking havoc on the climate. , but limiting domestic supplies will not reduce demand and could push prices higher. encourage greater production in countries with fewer environmental restrictions.

Restricting production in the Gulf of Mexico is the “wrong goal anyway” for opponents of fossil fuels, Krane said, as it is less carbon-intensive than oil produced on land through fracking. “We’d all be better off with a carbon tax and letting companies and their customers find out how they can reduce their emissions,” he said.


Associated Press writers Matthew Brown in Billings, Montana, and Janet McConnaughey in New Orleans contributed to this report.


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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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