By Bob Gatty
President Biden’s sweeping action on climate change could well be the first step towards ending the threat of new offshore drilling in the Atlantic, including off the coast of South Carolina.
However, Rep. Tom Rice (R-SC-7), who says he opposes drilling of the South Carolina coast, said Biden’s overall initiative “goes too far.”
In a series of executive orders signed January 27, Biden ordered a 60-day “pause” on new oil and natural gas leases on public lands or offshore waters “to the extent possible,” and a “rigorous review” of all existing leasing and permitting practices related to fossil fuel development on public lands and waters. In addition, steps are to be identified that can be taken to double renewable energy production from offshore wind by 2030.
Stop Offshore Drilling in the Atlantic (SODA) is encouraged by Biden’s action, which is needed to both protect coastal waters and beaches and to combat the negative environmental impact of fossil fuel.
“We are very pleased with the news that the Biden administration is following through on its campaign promises and to, at least at this point, review permitting new drilling in U.S. federal lands and waters,” said Peg Howell, SODA spokesperson. “SODA’s mission is to have a durable, permanent moratorium, and we believe that President Biden’s actions are heading in that direction.’
However, Rice said in a local television interview after Biden signed the executive orders that the president “has gone overboard,” arguing that former President Donald Trump’s moratorium on offshore drilling off the South Carolina coast, which came late in the heat of last fall’s election campaign, already deals with that issue.
Rice said he previously “cosponsored” bills that would prevent offshore drilling in the Atlantic, but that he does not want a “nationwide moratorium on offshore drilling,” which he believes would result in increased imports of foreign oil by weakening our domestic supply.
“That is wrong,” said Howell. “The U.S. is the largest oil and gas producer in world. We have so much that he voted to export U.S. crude oil in 2015. If he is so concerned about the U.S. supply, he should be putting forward legislation that doesn’t permit exporting of oil and natural gas from the U.S.” In his interview, Rice said he wants the U.S. to only use domestic oil as renewable energy is developed.
Biden explained that his actions would shift the U.S. away from fossil fuels, create millions of jobs in renewable energy, and conserve massive areas of public lands and waters.
“It’s not time for small measures,” he said as he prepared to sign the documents, stressing that strong action to combat climate change, which his predecessor denied existed, is long overdue, calling climate change an “existential threat.”
Already, in his short time in office, Biden has rejoined the Paris climate agreement, stopped the Keystone XL pipeline, imposed new limits on oil and gas production, and mandated that climate change be made a priority in every federal agency.
The White House said the orders he signed January 27 will “tackle the climate crisis at home and abroad while creating good-paying union jobs and equitable clean energy future, building modern and sustainable infrastructure, restoring scientific integrity and evidence-based policymaking across the federal government, and re-establishing the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology.”
Biden promised to create a federal fleet of electric cars, saying that would produce new good-paying jobs. The next day General Motors announced plans to phase out vehicles using internal combustion engines by 2035, saying it will be entirely carbon neutral at all facilities worldwide by that date.
“General Motors is joining governments and companies around the globe working to establish a safer, greener and better world,” company Chairman and CEO Mary Barra said. “We encourage others to follow suit and make a significant impact on our industry and on the economy as a whole.”
Fossil Fuels Industry Howls
While environmental groups like SODA applauded Biden’s action, the fossil fuel industry and their supporters in Congress were not quite so pleased. There were the predictable doomsday comments from the industry like this from Mike Sommers at the American Petroleum Institute on his Twitter feed, which even brings the coronavirus pandemic into play:
“With a stroke of a pen, the administration is shifting America’s bright energy future into reverse and setting us on a path toward greater reliance on foreign energy produced with lower environmental standards. Limiting domestic energy production is nothing more than an “import more oil” policy that runs counter to our shared goal of emissions reductions and will make it harder for local communities to recover from the pandemic.”
The offshore drilling industry chimed in as well:
“This decision is contrary to law and puts America on a path toward increased imports from foreign nations that have been characterized as pollution havens,” said Erik Milito, president of the National Ocean Industries Association. “Any pause of American energy opportunities will do untold harm towards American economic, energy, and environmental progress. Reducing American offshore oil and gas development means lost jobs, increased greenhouse gas emissions, and less funding for outdoor parks and recreation activities for urban, underprivileged communities. There is no shortage of negative consequences from this leasing pause.”
Following Biden’s announcement, West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey and five other GOP attorneys general sent a letter to the president containing a thinly veiled threat of a lawsuit to block his actions.
“Our states have led the charge in successfully challenging unauthorized and unlawful executive actions, as you know from your years as vice president,” they wrote. “You can be assured that we will do so again, if necessary.”
Benefits of Leasing Pause
According to the U.S. Department of the Interior, fossil fuel leasing on federal and tribal land accounts for nearly 25 percent of the nation’s annual carbon output, and that the drilling program generated almost $8.1 billion in tax revenue for all levels of government last year.
The pause will give the Biden administration time to determine if taxpayers are being adequately compensated for the minerals being extracted from public lands, noted an article in The Washington Post.
“By pausing the broken leasing system and halting the giveaways to oil and gas executives, President Biden has an opportunity to meaningfully fix the leasing system for the first time in nearly four decades with solutions that work for the public and which incorporate ambitious conservation, taxpayer fairness, and climate goals,” Jenny Rowland-Shea, senior policy analyst for public land at the Center for American Progress, wrote in an email to The Post. “We can make sure our public lands and coasts are preserved, accessible and beneficial to everyone — not abused by oil and gas corporations.”
“Now is the time to be focusing in a just and equitable transition to ensure that we have good clean energy jobs, and we aren’t stuck relying on the offshore drilling industry,” said Valerie Cleland, oceans advocate at the National Resources Defense Council.
“Offshore drilling threatens our ocean, coastal communities, and the planet—this executive order is exactly the type of movement we need to be seeing from an administration committed to acting on climate and including the ocean in climate solutions.”