President Joe Biden is expected to announce sweeping policies on Wednesday to address so-called manmade climate change, including putting millions of acres of federal land off-limits for domestic energy production and elevate environmental concerns to a national security issue.
On his first day in office, Biden signed an executive order to put a 60-day pause on new drilling leases on federal land but has indicated a permanent ban could be on the way.
According to the Congressional Research Service the federal government owns and manages roughly 640 million acres of land in the United States, or roughly 28 percent of the 2.27 billion total land acres.
The New York Times speculated on Wednesday’s announcement based on two anonymous sources, although the White House reportedly refused to confirm what those sources said:
An eventual ban on new drilling leases would fulfill a campaign promise that infuriated the oil industry and became a central theme in the fight for the critical battleground state of Pennsylvania, where the natural gas extraction method known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, has become big business.
The president also will direct the government to conserve 30 percent of all federal land and water by 2030, create a task force to assemble a governmentwide action plan for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, issue a memorandum elevating climate change to a national security priority. Mr. Biden will also create several new commissions and positions within the government focused on environmental justice and environmentally friendly job creation, including one to help displaced coal communities.
The programs and proclamations are supposed to signal that climate change is back on the government agenda, bigger than ever. What they will not deliver, at least yet, is a steep and rapid reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. Without legislation, the administration will have to rely on the regulatory process to curb greenhouse gas emissions from power plants and smokestacks and improve vehicle fuel efficiency, but that takes time too. It cannot be done by executive order.
“Can this administration do a lot on its own? Yes,” Jonathan H. Adler, a law professor at Case Western Reserve University, said in the Times report, but “if the standard, though, is atmospheric stabilization, I’m skeptical the administration can do anything near enough administratively.”
“The tons of carbon pollution in the air is what matters in the end,” Tim Profeta, director of the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University, said. He is also co-chairman of a group that gave a climate policy wish list to the Biden administration.
“Much of the environmental community applauded the plan, though some said Mr. Biden is not going far enough,” the Times reported.
“It’s vital that President Biden permanently ban all new fossil fuel extraction, including fracking, on federal lands and waters,” Mitch Jones, policy director for Food & Water Watch, an environmental group, told the Times.
The Times said Biden will call on agencies across the federal government to make climate change a pillar of policies going forward, from federal procurement to financial regulations and lawsuit settlements.
“The climate reality of today is higher temperatures, stronger storms, more destructive wildfires, sea-level rise, acidifying oceans and extended drought,” Sherri Goodman, a deputy undersecretary of defense for environmental security under Obama and now a senior fellow at the Wilson Center’s Environmental Change and Security Program, said.
“We need a climate security plan for America that climate-proofs American infrastructure and puts climate and clean energy innovation front and center,” she said.
“Drilling on federal lands accounts for roughly 9% of U.S. onshore production, but oil industry leaders see a curtailment on future development as a significant threat,” the Wall Street Journal reported. “Oil companies want to maximize their access to land and federal permits to help grow and sustain operations, and they plan to resist Mr. Biden’s efforts through lawsuits and lobbying Congress.”
“The early actions of the administration are unilaterally shutting down and restricting the ability of American oil and gas producers to run their operations,” Anne Bradbury, chief executive of the American Exploration and Production Council, which represents independent U.S. oil companies, said in the Journal report. “The scope and the lack of consultation with industry stakeholders has been alarming.”
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