Final Biden Oil, Gas Rule Offers Fiscal Reforms, Nothing on Climate - Waterkeeper

Final Biden Oil, Gas Rule Offers Fiscal Reforms, Nothing on Climate

By: Waterkeeper Alliance

Photo Credit: Shutterstock

Today, the Biden administration’s Bureau of Land Management (the Bureau) released its final oil and gas leasing rule. The rule contains welcome and decades-overdue fiscal reforms and provides discretionary guidance for best land stewardship practices, but falls short of managing a climate-compatible decline of oil and gas extraction on public lands. The Bureau declined to incorporate comments from 11 conservation groups–as well as many other members of the public-imploring the agency to address the climate crisis in this long-anticipated update to the country’s antiquated federal oil and gas rules, as such, it achieves some but not all the necessary legal reform to the federal oil and gas program.

The rule omits any climate action entirely despite President Biden’s Executive Order 14008 specifically requiring analysis and mitigation of the federal oil and gas program’s contributions to the climate crisis. The order states in part: “…the United States will exercise its leadership to promote a significant increase in global climate ambition to meet the climate challenge.” The Bureau claims the report and the final oil and gas rule satisfy Executive Order 14008 despite containing no climate provisions whatsoever.

“The climate crisis is a water crisis,” said Daniel E. Estrin, general counsel and legal director for Waterkeeper Alliance. “Our communities, Indigenous American nations, and endangered wildlife urgently need the government to take meaningful action to protect them from unchecked climate change being driven by fossil fuel extraction. While the rule takes some fiscal and environmental steps in the right direction, they are overshadowed by the complete failure to address the climate impacts of the Bureau of Land Management’s oil and gas program. It’s long past time to align climate goals with regulatory actions, including a realistic plan to phase out leasing of public lands to help ensure clean and safe water will be available for present and future generations.”

The science is clear: there is no room for continuing “business as usual” on the federal mineral estate if humanity is to have a meaningful chance of curtailing catastrophic warming. Global fossil fuel production must decrease by approximately 6% per year between 2020 and 2030 if we hope to limit warming to 1.5°C. As the world’s largest fossil fuel producer and historic emitter, the U.S. is obligated to take a leadership role. The U.S. is currently projected to fall far short of its international climate commitments. Lawmakers, environmental groups, and the public have requested oil and gas phase-down measures in this rule.

“While we welcome the long-overdue fiscal and bonding reforms contained in the final rule, we are disappointed that, despite specifically requesting comment on how the rule should address greenhouse gas emissions, the Bureau of Land Management chose not to make any changes to the final rule in response to the many comments it received on this issue,” said Melissa Hornbein, senior attorney at the Western Environmental Law Center. “The Bureau has ample authority to institute the ‘lifecycle’ approach to the federal leasing program we recommended, which would have set the stage for the scientifically mandated managed decline of the federal oil and gas program that is critical to addressing the climate crisis while complying with the Inflation Reduction Act’s requirements for future leasing. While bonding, royalty, and other fiscal reforms are welcome, the Bureau once again missed a critical opportunity to make a meaningful difference with respect to climate with this rule.”

In our comments, we called for phasing out oil and gas production by about 2030 and suggested a “lifecycle approach” for the federal oil and gas program, which would have helped address the interwoven climate, ecological, and biodiversity crises. This lifecycle approach would have allowed the Bureau for the first time ever to actually acknowledge and respond to the climate impacts of federal oil and gas extraction at a local and regional scale, from pre-leasing through well shut-in, and, critically, to retain agency discretion to require producers and lessees to address these issues in real time as new information arises.

The administration’s rule seeks to geographically concentrate oil and gas leasing in areas with “high potential” for oil and gas recovery in an effort to limit landscape and wildlife harms. The Bureau never addresses the fact that this approach has “high potential” to actually increase greenhouse gas emissions from federal public land and focus environmental harms in already overburdened communities. The rule also fails to provide the agency with guidance on which interests to put first when ecology and human health values conflict with extractive industries.

“In Western Colorado, lands with high development potential for oil and gas continue to overlap with disproportionate local warming compared to the state of Colorado, the nation and the world. The connection between oil and gas production and climate is irrefutable, yet the Bureau of Land Management declined to include climate impacts and indicators in its review and preference criteria,” said Natasha Léger, executive director of Citizens for a Healthy Community. “If not in the leasing rule, where and when is the Bureau going to give certainty to communities like the North Fork Valley in Colorado, where a community of farmers, ranchers, vintners, orchardists, recreationalists, and businesses have opposed new oil and gas leasing for over a decade, that lands exceeding local impact thresholds will be made ineligible for leasing?”

“The more we know about methane’s contribution to the climate crisis, the more urgent the need to act. It’s a huge disappointment that this administration ignored climate science,” said Anne Hedges, co-director of the Montana Environmental Information Center. “Improving the monetary obligations of this lucrative industry is a small step when compared to the heavy toll the industry’s methane pollution is having on our economy.”

The Bureau’s authority to manage public lands (the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976) stems from the property clause of the U.S. Constitution—the apex of the federal government’s authority. While the Supreme Court aims to curtail the Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to act on climate, the Bureau’s considerable authority over mineral production on federal lands represents a critical opportunity toward securing a livable climate for future generations.

“Frontline communities suffer most from the impacts of climate change. They need more protection than this rule provides,” said Kelly Fuller, climate and energy program director at WildEarth Guardians.