The climate measure act Biden signed bypasses the administration’s concerns about emissions and guarantees new drilling opportunities in the Gulf of Mexico and Alaska.
It boosts oil and gas interests by mandating leasing of vast areas of public lands and off the nation’s coasts. The law reinstates within 30 days the 2,700-square miles (6,950-square kilometers) of Gulf leases that had been withheld. It ensures companies like Chevron will have the chance to expand And it locks renewables and fossil fuels together. Chevron executives have predicted continued growth in the Gulf and tied that directly to being able “to lease and acquire additional acreage.”
If the Biden administration wants solar and wind on public lands, it must offer new oil and gas leases first. The measure’s critics say that’s holding renewables hostage unless the fossil fuel industry gets its way. As a result, U.S. oil and gas production and emissions from burning fuels could keep growing.
The leasing provisions mark a failure in efforts by environmentalists and social justice advocates to impose a nationwide leasing ban. The movement’s high point came when Biden followed campaign pledges to end new drilling on federal lands with an order his first week in office suspending lease sales.
Explained Andrew Gillick with Enverus, an energy analytics company whose data is used by industry and government agencies, “The folks that think oil and gas will be gone in 10 years may not be thinking through what this means.” The result would be more planet-warming carbon dioxide — up to 110 million tons (100 million metric tons) annually.
The increase in oil and gas emissions could be as much as 77 million to 110 million tons (70 to 100 million metric tons) of additional carbon dioxide annually by 2030 from new leasing, according to economist Brian Prest with the research group Resources for the Future.
U.S. District Judge Rudolph Contreras said that the government was “barreling full-steam ahead” without adequately considering global emission increases.
There’s uncertainty about how quickly other pieces of the bill could bring emission cuts. Wind and solar construction could run into the supply chain problems hindering many economic sectors. And technology to capture and store carbon dioxide is still being refined and is in limited use.
In Louisiana’s St. James Parish, where petrochemical plants dominate the landscape, environmental justice activist Sharon Lavigne said the legislation will allow pollution from fossil fuels to keep harming her community.
“That’s just like saying they’re going to continue to poison us, going to continue to cause us cancer,” said Lavigne.