The Biden administration issued environmental assessment and sale notices for oil and gas leases on federal land in seven different states on April 18—a step taken reluctantly to come into compliance with a court order.
The move comes days after the Department of Interior announced it would resume oil and gas lease sales on public lands to comply with a June ruling by a federal judge from the Western District of Louisiana.
This clashes with the Biden administration’s effort to bring an end to new leases on federal land, as well as its broader goals of reducing carbon emissions.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters Monday the administration will continue to fight the legal action.
“[The court injunction is] not in line with the President’s policy, which was to ban additional leasing because, one, we need to move towards a more clean energy economy, which he strongly believes in,” Psaki said.
Both Psaki and Biden have repeatedly pointed to 9,000 unused drilling permits as being sufficient for oil companies to increase domestic oil and gas production. But experts in the oil industry have called this rhetoric from the White House “a red herring” and said it is intentionally meant to be misleading.
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) issued assessments and sale notices for Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Montana, Wyoming, and Utah.
The sale notices reduce the total acreage by about 80 percent from what was originally nominated—offering 173 parcels on just 144,000 acres. BLM is also increasing the royalty cost charged to companies that lease the land from 12.5 percent to 18.75 percent.
Western Energy Alliance President Kathleen Sgamma called the move to reduce the acreage “unwarranted” in a Friday statement, adding that the land was already analyzed by BLM during the Trump administration.
“[The Biden] administration has decided to make leasing and production a political football, and Americans are paying the price at the pump,” Sgamma said.
BLM says it has prioritized avoiding important wildlife habitat and migration corridors and sensitive cultural areas in deciding which lands will be available for leasing.
“How we manage our public lands and waters says everything about what we value as a nation,” Interior Department Secretary Deb Haaland said in a statement Friday.
But the move to lease new federal land has found opposition from environmental groups.
Kayley Shoup of Citizens Caring for the Future called it “extremely disheartening” in a statement, while executive director of Citizens for a Healthy Community Natasha Léger said, “it’s time for climate leadership and to stop leasing our public lands for oil and gas development.”
This comes as some from Congress have called on the Biden administration to increase domestic oil production to offset gas prices that have risen to a national average of more than $4 a gallon.
But Biden has sought to hold to an executive order he signed during his first days in office, putting a halt to new fossil fuel drilling leases, prioritizing goals that were meant to “mitigate climate change.”
Biden has instead announced unprecedented releases from the nation’s Strategic Petroleum Reserve, including a gradual 180-million-barrel release announced on March 31.