Jan 27, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Biden to sign major climate orders, setting up clash with oil industry

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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

President Biden will sign new executive actions today that provide the clearest signs yet of his climate plans — elevating the issue to a national security priority and kicking off an intense battle with the oil industry.

Driving the news: One move will freeze issuance of new oil-and-gas leases on public lands and waters "to the extent possible," per a White House summary.

  • The order does not restrict tribal lands, the White House said.
  • Other expected moves will look to stitch climate and environmental justice into the fabric of decision-making across the government.

Some of the new measures include...

  • Setting a target of conserving 30% of the nation's lands and oceans by 2030.
  • Scheduling an April 22 (Earth Day) summit with world leaders aimed at toughening emissions-cutting efforts.
  • Elevating climate's role in foreign and security policy, such as requesting a national intelligence estimate on the security implications of climate change.
  • Creating a new task force of 21 agencies and departments to "enable a whole-of-government" approach to climate.
  • Directing agencies to "coordinate investments and other efforts to assist coal, oil and natural gas, and power plant communities."
  • Requiring agencies to procure carbon-free power and zero-emissions vehicles.
  • Taking steps to address the higher pollution exposure among the poor and communities of color. This includes a "Justice40 Initiative" aimed at "delivering 40 percent of the overall benefits of relevant federal investments to disadvantaged communities."

Why it matters: The freeze on new oil leases marks a quick and tangible step to limit options for future production as Biden looks to speed the nation's move away from fossil fuels.

  • The other moves will put a wide swath of government to work in the service of his climate agenda but, like many executive orders, are more akin to firing a starting gun.

Yes, but: Federal lands and waters are less important to the domestic supply picture than they were before the fracking boom that's centered largely on private onshore holdings.

  • Still, they're quite significant — the American Petroleum Institute estimates that federal areas account for 22% of U.S. oil production and 12% of natural gas output.
  • It's also worth noting that a leasing freeze won't have an immediate effect on production. Plus, multiple companies with public lands exposure have stockpiles of drilling permits.

What they're saying: Oil industry groups have been aggressively pushing back against the leasing plan, arguing it will ultimately cost jobs and imperil energy security.

  • “Restricting development on federal lands and waters is nothing more than an 'import more oil' policy,"API president Mike Sommers said in a statement.

The other side: Environmental groups cheered the expected leasing freeze. “The climate and wildlife extinction crises demand this kind of bold, urgent action,” Kierán Suckling, executive director at the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement.

  • And the White House calls the overall orders a way to boost jobs in low-carbon energy and infrastructure sectors.
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