Environmental science

Energy & Environment — Biden officials deflect blame over oil lease sales

The Biden administration is blaming the restart of oil and gas leasing on a court order, and the Energy Department is boosting nuclear plants.

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Officials pin new oil leasing on court ruling

The Biden administration, under fire from climate activists over its move to restart oil and gas leasing on federal lands, is seeking to shift blame to a court ruling as it navigates dueling climate and energy pressures.

The administration has emphasized that its Friday decision to open up about 144,000 acres of publicly-owned lands for oil and gas drilling was caused by a court order — and has indicated in recent days that its preference would be to not hold any lease sales at all .

White House press secretary Jen Psaki on Monday said the court ruling was “forcing our hand” and that President Biden’s policy is to “ban additional leasing.”

“Today’s action…was the result of a court injunction that we continue to appeal, and it’s not in line with the president’s policy, which is to ban additional leasing,” Psaki said.

Asked if new leases will undercut Biden’s climate goals, Psaki reiterated that “these leases are not in line with our policy or the president’s view.”

The Psaki remarks followed a tweet by Interior Secretary Deb Haaland on Friday. She said the action “was the result of a court injunction that we continue to appeal, and I have used my authority to reduce by 80 percent the areas to lease, impose stringent environmental safeguards, and ensure the American people receive their fair share.”

The oil and gas leasing program will restart with 173 parcels of land, the administration said Friday. On Monday, it revealed that about 132,000 of the acres up for lease would be in Wyoming and auctioned off in June.

The move generated pushback from left-wing environmental advocates — who argued that the administration should try to limit drilling as much as possible — as well as industry and Republicans, who argued that the sale was too small and took issues with other modifications like higher fees for drillers.

So what is this injunction, anyway? The June 2021 court order that the Biden administration is blaming prevented the administration from “implementing” a pause issued by the president on new oil and gas leases on public lands or waters.

On one of his first few days in office, Biden directed a pause in new leasing for parcels of land on which companies can bid to drill.

The pause was described as temporary and “pending completion of a comprehensive review and reconsideration of Federal oil and gas permitting and leasing practices.”

However, the administration has since carried out a review of the program, issuing a report in November that calls for modifications like those made to the upcoming sale.

Read more about the messaging here.

Biden bails out nuclear energy

The Biden administration will put $6 billion toward saving distressed nuclear power plants from closure, viewing the power source as another carbon-free alternative to fossil fuels.

On Tuesday, the Department of Energy announced a new bidding process for submissions under the new Civil Nuclear Credit program. The bidding will be open to operators of plants that would otherwise be at imminent risk of shutdown.

The Biden administration has set a goal of net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 and called recent closures of commercial reactors a major barrier to reaching that goal. Reactors that have already announced closure plans will be prioritized in the first round of awards.

Twelve reactors have closed before their licenses expired in the last decade, which the US Energy Information Administration expects will reduce US nuclear capacity by 10.5 gigawatts.

“US nuclear power plants contribute more than half of our carbon-free electricity, and President Biden is committed to keeping these plants active to reach our clean energy goals,” said US Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm. ”

Rad more about the move to bolster nuclear plants here.

NEW RENEWABLES ON PUBLIC LANDS

Clean energy on public lands is growing, with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) increasing its renewable energy permitting by 35 percent last fiscal year.

A new report from the federal government said that the bureau authorized or facilitated 12 public lands projects and supported the development of 2,890 megawatts — enough to power more than 300 million LED lights — of generating capacity from onshore wind, solar and geothermal energy.

This is up significantly from the 2020 fiscal year’s 2,148 megawatts. Of the 12 fiscal 2021 projects, one was authorized in the final days of the Trump administration while the others were authorized during the Biden administration.

A statement from the Interior Department, which oversees the bureau, predicted even more going forward, saying the department hopes to support more than 10,000 additional megawatts of renewable energy capacity by the end of next year.

This would be almost twice as much as it currently supports.

The new report also highlighted actions that the bureau is taking on clean energy, including hiring new staff to support its clean energy goals. It also said it was lowering rents and fees for wind and solar projects on public lands in California and was considering making additional reductions.

Read more here.

ON TAP TOMORROW

The House Science, Space and Technology Committee will hold a field hearing on electric vehicles and the critical minerals supply chain.

WHAT WE’RE READING

  • A megafire raged for 3 months. No one’s on the hook for its emissions. (The Washington Post)
  • Permian Basin poised for ‘surge’ in production as large oil and gas deals continue (Carlsbad Current Argus)
  • Environmental scientist accused of stealing secret documents from powerful foundation (The Palm Beach Post)
  • China doubles down on coal (The New York Times)
  • After Michigan senator takes $30k from landfills, recycling legislation rots (MLive)

ICYMI

And finally, something offbeat but kind of on-beat?

Who wants to talk to celebrities when you can talk to climate change.

That’s it for today, thanks for reading. Check out The Hill’s Energy & Environment page for the latest news and coverage. We’ll see you tomorrow.

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