The president of the United States took a series of ambitious executive actions Wednesday aimed at tackling the climate crisis, including an order that directs a pause on new oil and gas drilling leases on federal lands or offshore waters.
However, Joe Biden made clear in a speech at the White House that his administration will not ban hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," which is environmentally controversial but has led to substantial increases in US domestic oil and gas production.
As part of an executive order titled "Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad," the head of state instructed the Department of the Interior, which manages federal and tribal lands, to "pause on entering into new oil and natural gas leases on public lands or offshore waters to the extent possible," the White House said in a fact sheet.
That order also includes other measures targeting the oil and gas industry, such as calls for the launch of a rigorous review of all existing leasing and permitting practices related to fossil-fuel development on public lands and waters.
Besides the pause on new drilling leases, that executive order commits to the goal of conserving at least 30 percent of US lands and oceans by 2030 and directs the interior secretary to identify potential steps for doubling renewable energy production from offshore wind by that year, the White House said.
"In my view, we've already waited too long to deal with this climate crisis and we can't wait any longer. We see it with our own eyes, we feel it, we know it in our bones and it's time to act," Biden said in his address on Wednesday.
But the president also sought to head off criticism of his plan as a job-killer, saying the climater crisis-fighting measures would have a positive impact on the economy by creating "millions" of jobs.
"When I think of climate change and the answers to it, I think of jobs. A key plank of our 'build back better' recovery plan is building a modern resilient climate infrastructure and clean energy future that will create millions of good-paying union jobs," he said. "We can put millions of Americans to work modernizing our water systems, transportation, our energy infrastructure to withstand the impacts of extreme climate," Biden said.
He also clarified that his plan does not include a ban on fracking, a highly controversial drilling method that involves pumping a pressurized fluid - usually composed of water, sand and chemicals - into a shale formation to create a fracture in the rock layer and release trapped petroleum or natural gas.
"Let me be clear, and I know this always comes up. We're not going to ban fracking. We'll protect jobs and grow jobs, including through stronger standards like controls from methane leaks and union workers willing to install the changes," the president said.
But he did take aim at current subsidies for oil and gas companies.
"Unlike previous administrations, I don't think the federal government should give handouts to big oil to the tune of $40 billion in fossil fuel subsidies. And I'm going to be going to the Congress asking them to eliminate those subsidies," Biden said.
The president's executive action does not affect existing oil and gas drilling leases on state, private and tribal lands, and therefore the real impact on the industry of the leasing pause remains unclear.
On Wednesday, Biden's nominee to lead the Energy Department, Jennifer Granholm, made clear at her confirmation hearing in the Senate that "the licenses that currently are operating are not going to be disrupted."
"(Oil and gas companies) have got 10,000 licenses ... and they can continue to deploy with their permit to extract energy. Only on future licenses there is this moratorium," she said.
Biden has wasted little time churning out orders related to climate change.
Just hours after his Jan. 20 inauguration, Biden issued an executive order revoking the permit that his predecessor, Donald Trump, had granted to Calgary, Canada-based TransCanada Corp. (now TC Energy) for the Keystone XL oil pipeline.
Construction had already started on the projected 1,947-kilometer (1,210-mile) pipeline, which was to have carried around 830,000 barrels of crude per day from the tar sands of the western Canadian province of Alberta to Nebraska via the Canadian province of Saskatchewan and the US states of Montana and South Dakota and had become a symbol of the climate crisis.
With respect to the pause on new oil and gas leases on federal land, the energy industry and southern and western US states whose economies depend to a large degree on oil and gas royalties are expected to bring court challenges to Biden's move.
Anticipating that executive order, Kathleen Sgamma of the Western Energy Alliance, which represents oil and gas companies in many fossil fuel-rich western US states, told National Public Radio the industry would not take that move lying down.
"We'll be in court shortly thereafter," she said.
The "Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad" order also directs federal agencies to "procure carbon pollution-free electricity and clean, zero-emission vehicles" and reaffirms Biden's plans to host a Leaders' Climate Summit on Earth Day (April 22), a move that will underscore the the US's re-commitment to international efforts to reduce carbon emissions.
The White House said Biden's measures fulfill his campaign promise to take aggressive action against climate change and build on moves he announced on Day 1 of his presidency, including rejoining the Paris Agreement and ordering the "immediate review of harmful rollbacks of standards that protect our air, water and communities."
In a sharp shift from the Trump's administration's climate skepticism, Biden on Wednesday also signed two other executive actions, one on "Re-Establishing the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology" and another on "Scientific Integrity and Evidence-Based Policymaking."
The latter sends a clear message that the Biden administration will "protect scientists from political interference," the White House fact sheet said.
The ultimate goals are to achieve a carbon pollution-free power sector by 2035 and to put the United States on an "irreversible path" to a net-zero economy by 2050, it added. EFE-EPA