Energy & Environment

Biden’s Interior Department temporarily blocks new drilling on public lands

The Interior Department took swift action to deliver on President Biden’s campaign pledge to block oil and gas drilling on public lands, freezing such leases for the next 60 days.

An order signed by acting Secretary Scott de la Vega on Wednesday bars the department from pushing ahead with any new leasing or drilling permits. It also blocks any new major mining actions.

Biden’s climate plan calls for “banning new oil and gas permitting on public lands and waters,” a pledge made by each Democratic candidate in the primary after the idea was first proposed by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.).

The 60-day timeline pauses a number of other actions at Interior, including any promotions for department staff or transfer of public lands back to the states.

Biden has nominated Rep. Deb Haaland (D-N.M.) to lead the Interior Department, and her signature would be required to establish a permanent moratorium on new oil drilling on public lands.

“For four years, the Trump administration cut legal corners and rushed through massive drilling and mining projects at the behest of corporations. Now the Biden administration is rightfully attempting to take stock of the damage and make sure the agency is following the law, instead of rubber-stamping destructive projects that were in the pipeline,” Jesse Prentice-Dunn, policy director at the Center for Western Priorities, a public lands watchdog group, said in a release.

“Once Deb Haaland is confirmed as Interior secretary, she’ll be able to take long-term actions to make sure the Interior department prioritizes communities and conservation, not extractive industry lobbyists.”

Biden’s climate plan calls for putting the U.S. on a path to carbon neutrality by 2050, an effort that will require reducing use of fossil fuels.

“I would transition from the oil industry, yes,” Biden said in an October debate with former President Trump. 

“It’s a big statement because the oil industry pollutes significantly. … It has to be replaced by renewable energy over time.”

The American Petroleum Institute (API), which represents the oil industry, has said blocking new leases will further push the U.S. toward foreign oil while limiting revenue for conservation.

“Restricting development on federal lands and waters is nothing more than an ‘import more oil’ policy. 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,” API President and CEO Mike Sommers said in a release Thursday.

“We stand ready to engage with the Biden administration on ways to address America’s energy challenges, but impeding American energy will only serve to hurt local communities and hamper America’s economic recovery.”

Updated at 2:27 p.m.

Energy & Environment