Taking stock of fossil fuel reform under Biden


The Biden administration came into office with ambitious climate policies and has already faced multiple legal challenges, including several lawsuits and a recent Louisiana court ruling blocking the national pause on new oil and gas rentals. . But the Administration still has options in the fight against climate change.

We need strong action now

Today more than ever, we need bold and decisive climate action. The West is parched and scorching again, suffering from historic forest fires, record droughts and severe heat waves. Hurricane season is well underway on the east coast, with thousands of people recently without power and inundated by Tropical Storm Henri, and scientists are predicting an even more intense hurricane season to come.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, in its latest report, warned that our actions – especially the extraction and combustion of fossil fuels – are responsible for the current climate crisis, and that we must act now. to prevent further catastrophic changes.

The fossil fuel industry produces the lion’s share of greenhouse gas emissions, and the Biden administration’s executive order on tackling the climate crisis at home and abroad was a key step towards achieving it. reform of fossil fuel development by imposing a pause on the leasing of oil and gas on public lands and in federal waters. He also called on the Home Office to review its licensing and leasing responsibilities, and take into account its “broad stewardship responsibilities on public lands and in offshore waters, including potential impacts on climate and other impacts associated with oil and gas activities ”. To date, Interior has yet to release the results of its review.

NRDC opposes industry deregulation agenda

The oil and gas-producing states have filed a lawsuit to block implementation of the executive order, including a lawsuit in a federal district court in the Western District of Louisiana. The states have also requested a preliminary injunction – to lift the break and let the leasing continue for the duration of the trial.

The NRDC and other groups have sought to intervene in this trial. We were refused, but filed a amicus curiae brief arguing against the injunction, stressing the Home Office’s obligation to protect the environment, its discretion to design a rental program that meets this objective and contradicts states’ arguments that a rental break would cause immediate economic damage.

The judge granted the states’ request for a preliminary injunction, in a ruling that ruled the suspension of the leasing decree illegal and demanded that, in the absence of an alternate legal basis, Interior should proceed. ‘before with the sale of individual leases. In a recent legal filing, Interior said it was complying with the injunction, going ahead with a final sale notice for an offshore lease sale, continuing the environmental review process for another sale offshore lease and conducting a scoping process for land lease sales.

The DOI still has the power to reform the process of leasing fossil fuels

As we wait for the Home Office to release its review of its onshore and overseas rental programs and take further action regarding sales of individual leases, we wish to stress the agency’s obligations to protect the environment and public health, and the urgent need to act decisively to address the climate crisis.

Even with the recent court ruling, the Home Office has ample power to curb oil and gas development and mitigate the worst effects of the fossil fuel industry.

  • First, the laws governing the leasing of mineral rights by the Ministry of Interior – including the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act and the Minerals Leasing Act – oblige the Interior to consider the effect of tenancy on the environment and communities, and protect public lands and waters. See for example, 43 USC §§ 1701 (a) (5); 1344 (a) (1).
  • Second, contrary to what states have argued in the recent litigation, the Home Office is no need to prioritize extraction on our lands and in our waters, and has the discretion to balance energy needs with environmental considerations. Identifier.
  • Third, the interior has discretion to shape offshore and onshore rental programs to protect the environment and mitigate the climate crisis. The recent court decision rejected the suspension of the tenancy imposed by the decree, but did not – and indeed cannot – modify the fundamental obligation of the Interior to protect the environment or its discretion to shaping onshore and offshore rental programs. Interior has the discretion to reduce onshore and offshore rental programs based on environmental, climatic and public health considerations. See for example, 43 USC § 1344 (a); Center for Sustainable Economy c. Jewell, 779 F.3d 588, 610 (DC Cir. 2015). The interior also has the discretion to choose not to conduct individual rental sales and has exercised this discretion on several occasions in the past. See 43 USC § 1337 (a); California v. Watt (California II), 712 F. 2d 584, 588 (DC Cir. 1983). In addition, the Interior must follow laws such as the National Environmental Policy Act in administering rental programs, which require full consideration of the environmental effects of large government projects, as well as the consideration of new information. important.

It is important to note that the nation must approach the climate crisis as exactly what it is – an unprecedented global emergency, and we must both interpret and develop laws and policies in this context, instead of enforcing. the old standards in a vacuum regardless of the scale of evil unfolding around us. The Home Office could use its statutes to pursue a new rental policy, based on the significant damage the fossil fuel industry is inflicting on the environment. It can also use the same patterns for cancel individual rental sales or significantly restrict the rental program. And as my colleagues wrote, Interior could also make it harder for the industry to leave orphan wells behind which continue to pollute the surrounding environment, impose additional pollution controls on well sites, and improve the economic structure of royalty rates so that the public is fairly remunerated for the extractive activity.

The Home Office has the opportunity to reform a broken industry and protect our lands and waters for future generations. We will continue to urge the Administration to move forward boldly in the months to come for the benefit of all.

This blog provides general information, not legal advice. If you need legal help, please consult a lawyer in your state.

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