August 16, 2022

Biden Has This Little-Known Option To Make Big Climate Impact

The United States’ climate action has been thwarted by political stalemate – but there is hope. The Biden administration could enact major climate policy whose survival does not depend on the next presidential election.

Enter: the government’s five-year offshore oil lease plan. World justice fights in the courts to keep fossil fuels on the ground, and in some cases, we force the government to implement strong climate policies so we don’t have to go to court. The Biden administration has a unique and critical opportunity as it draws up a new plan this year to make a simple choice that could help save us from the worst of climate disaster.

What is the five-year plan:

  • Known as the Five-Year National Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Lease Program, this plan determines how, or more importantly, whether the United States will use its assets in federal waters, namely underwater oil and gas.
  • The overwhelming majority of offshore drilling takes place in the Gulf of Mexico, home to infamous oil spills like BP Deepwater Horizon and Taylor.
  • Every five years, an executive branch in the Department of the Interior, called the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), outlines a new plan.
  • The agency determines where and how much ocean territory the government leases to fossil fuel companies to extract oil and gas from our ocean floors.
  • Legally, BOEM must take into account what will “best meet national energy needs” and its plan must be consistent with the government’s environmental protection priorities as well as other economic and social values. Earthjustice’s recent legislative gains have allowed the government to take climate impacts into account when renting.
A drill ship anchored in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Louisiana in 2021.

A drill ship anchored in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Louisiana in 2021.

Brad Zweerink / World justice

How the five-year plan can make a big difference in the climate crisis:

  • Short answer: Management could not offer any new offshore leases to fossil fuel companies.
  • It is within the jurisdiction of Home Secretary Deb Haaland not to secure new lease sales in BOEM’s next Five-Year Program.
  • Adopting such a plan would prevent new havoc and carbon emissions in US waters in the Atlantic, Pacific, Alaska and Gulf of Mexico for the next five years regardless of who sits in the Oval Office.
  • Offshore oil and gas leasing threatens marine life and valuable ecosystems through seafloor drilling, deafening seismic explosions and catastrophic oil spills. These activities and their carbon emissions fuel extreme weather conditions by warming ocean waters and raising sea levels, while also weakening vital marine ecosystems.
  • In turn, ending the federal offshore charter will have profound benefits in climate and environmental justice, from reducing greenhouse gas pollution rates to protecting vital ecosystems and the communities that depend on them.
Oiled brown pelicans off the coast of Louisiana, affected by the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill, await cleanup at the Fort Jackson Oil Wildlife Rehabilitation Center in Buras, Louisiana in 2010.

Oiled brown pelicans off the coast of Louisiana, affected by the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill, await cleanup at the Fort Jackson Oil Wildlife Rehabilitation Center in Buras, Louisiana in 2010.

Renting more from our oceans won’t help local gas prices – but it will hurt nearby communities.

  • Contrary to conservative misinformation, gas prices are largely determined by global energy markets and geopolitical events, not local policies. On average, new offshore lease sales take 10 years to develop, meaning new leases will do nothing to help rising gas prices. And we need to enter a clean energy transition within a decade.
  • The fossil fuel industry has already leased, but has yet to develop a large stock of offshore leases. Because many forms of zero-emission energy are now widely available and affordable, there is no need for the government to lease more of the ocean to oil companies.
  • Gulf communities in particular have been irreparably damaged by oil and gas drilling off our coasts. We must focus on the transition to a clean energy economy that does not sustain the industry’s practice of sacrificing parts of the population.
Smoke waves from controlled oil burns near the site of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Louisiana on June 19, 2010.

Smoke waves from controlled oil burns near the site of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Louisiana on June 19, 2010.

via Getty Images Derick E. Hingle / Bloomberg

The Biden administration must stop selling US waters to oil and gas companies to meet its climate goals.

  • President Biden ran on the most powerful environmental platform in US history. Almost 7 out of 10 People who voted for President Biden in 2020 saw climate change as a very important issue.
  • But two years after his presidency, the US federal fossil fuel program fell far short of Biden’s stated national climate pollution target and the targets of the Paris Agreement.
  • Climate science clearly shows that new fossil fuel infrastructure cannot be developed anywhere if we hope to limit global warming to 1.5°C.
  • This is a clear opportunity for President Biden to stand strong in the face of misinformation and climate denial, and to inspire the younger generations that are expected of him.

The climate crisis is undeniably our current reality – but not yet an inevitable future. Tell President Biden to use this powerful tool to deliver on his campaign promises.

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