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Biden poised to halt fossil fuel leasing on federal land

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The Biden administration has drafted an order imposing a moratorium on oil and gas auctions on federal land and water, according to reports./AFP
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Jan 27, 2021 - 09:59 AM

WASHINGTON — US President Joe Biden was planning to announce new bans on oil and gas drilling on federal lands Wednesday as part of a raft of actions that take aim at climate change, according to reports and a White House memo.

The administration has drafted an order imposing a moratorium on oil and gas auctions on federal land and water, the Washington Post and other US media reported.

The moratorium wouldn’t affect existing leases, but would fulfill a pledge that became a major issue during the election campaign, especially in the battleground state of Pennsylvania where fracking led to a natural gas boom.

The US would also pledge to conserve 30 percent of all federal land and water by 2030, part of an international push to stem biodiversity loss and confront climate change, according to reports.

Other actions include “elevating climate change as a national security priority,” according to a White House memo seen by AFP, an order re-establishing a presidential council of science advisors and another directing science-based decision making in federal agencies.

The US will further announce a US-hosted Climate Leaders’ Summit on April 22 — Earth Day and also the fifth anniversary of the signing of the Paris Agreement — according to the memo.

Almost a quarter of American carbon dioxide emissions come from energy produced on public lands, according to a government report from 2018.

The drilling generated $11.7 billion in revenue in 2019, according to official data.

The measures are therefore significant steps towards Biden’s campaign pledges to transition away from fossil fuels on the way to net zero emissions in the power sector by 2035 and the economy as a whole by 2050.

Taken together, the actions are “consistent with President Biden and Vice President Harris raising global climate ambition starting here at home,” Sherri Goodman, deputy undersecretary of defense for environmental security under former president Barack Obama, told AFP.

Industry backlash 

Nonprofit Oceana has called on Biden to go further and turn the moratorium into a ban.

It released an analysis Tuesday that found making offshore drilling protections permanent for unleased federal waters could prevent over 19 billion tons of greenhouse gas emissions and more than $720 billion in damages.

“By permanently protecting our coasts from dirty offshore drilling and advancing clean energy sources like offshore wind, we can simultaneously combat climate change and safeguard our clean coast economy,” said Oceana campaign director Diane Hoskins.

But the proposals have triggered a backlash by the fossil fuel industry.

“Restricting development on federal lands and waters is nothing more than an ‘import more oil’ policy,” said American Petroleum Institute President and CEO Mike Sommers.

“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.”

International summit 

David Waskow, of the World Resources Institute, said the proposed summit on April 22 is a chance for a new multilateral climate push after four years under Donald Trump.

“This will be an opportunity for the US to come to the table with others to press forward the agenda and sort of add to the drumbeat on the way to COP26,” the UN climate meeting that will be hosted in Glasgow later this year, he told AFP.

The US would also be expected to raise its Paris accord ambitions at the summit, and potentially target as much as a 50-percent reduction in total greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 compared to 2005 levels.

Biden, who will seek a green infrastructure package from Congress next month that could run up to $2 trillion or more, will face political challenges from Republicans.

But Goodman, now a senior fellow at the Wilson Center’s Environmental Change and Security Program, said she saw opportunities for bipartisanship.

“Remember that states like Texas and Wyoming also have huge wind potential,” she said, adding that there was increased recognition of the realities of climate change.

“More rapid polar ice melt, sea ice retreat, collapsing permafrost and higher temperatures all underscore the importance of recognizing climate as an essential element of our foreign policy and national security planning.”

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