Biden backs new offshore drilling in the Gulf of Mexico

Litigation Reports

President Joe Biden’s administration on Friday proposed up to three oil and gas lease sales in the Gulf of Mexico, but none in Alaska, as it tries to navigate between energy companies seeking greater oil and gas production and environmental activists who want Biden to shut down new offshore drilling in the fight against climate change.

The five-year plan includes proposed sales in the Gulf of Mexico — the nation’s primary offshore source of oil and gas — in 2025, 2027 and 2029. The three lease sales are the minimum number the Democratic administration could legally offer if it wants to continue expanding offshore wind development.

Under the terms of a 2022 climate law, the government must offer at least 60 million acres of offshore oil and gas leases in any one-year period before it can offer offshore wind leases. The provision tying offshore wind to oil and gas production was added by Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, a top recipient of oil and gas donations and a key vote in favor of the climate law, which was approved with only Democratic votes in Congress. The landmark law, the Inflation Reduction Act, was signed by Biden as a key step to fight climate change but includes a number of provisions authored by Manchin, a centrist who represents an energy-producing state.

For instance, if the Biden administration wants to expand solar and wind power on public lands, it must offer new oil and gas leases first.

“The Biden-Harris administration is committed to building a clean energy future that ensures America’s energy independence,” Interior Secretary Deb Haaland said in a statement. The proposed offshore leasing program “represents the smallest number of oil and gas lease sales in history” and “sets a course for (the Interior Department) to support the growing offshore wind industry,” she said.

The lease program will guard against environmental damage caused by oil and gas drilling and other adverse impacts to coastal communities, Haaland said.

If completed, the sales would increase climate-changing greenhouse gas emissions, according to a 300-page environmental review by the Interior Department’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management. How much they will increase is uncertain because the review considered five or 10 new sales but not the three sales proposed.

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