Biden administrator demands higher prices for drilling on public lands

With little fanfare, the Biden administration today released a much-anticipated report on how to reform the country’s oil and gas program that suggests higher royalties and more restrictions on where the oil industry can drill. on public land.

The report echoes reform measures advocated by Democrats, conservation groups and government watchdogs in recent years.

The report targets the amount of public land available for industry, suggesting that protecting areas with low oil potential would free those acres for other uses.

He argues that the Interior should increase the royalty rates that oil companies pay for drilling for federal minerals, as well as strengthen requirements for companies to set aside the money needed to plug and recuperate wells. The report also says the minimum bid of $ 2 per acre for buying leases at auction is too low, urging an increase to deter speculation.

Interior said today that the report concludes the full review of the federal oil program requested by President Biden in January. It does not enact any policy change itself. But it does offer a roadmap showing where this administration can go in terms of shifting the fossil fuel agenda to account for climate change and other impacts.

“This review highlights significant gaps in federal oil and gas programs and identifies important and urgent fiscal and program reforms that will benefit the American people,” Secretary Deb Haaland said in a statement today.

She said: “The Home Office has an obligation to responsibly manage our public lands and waters – providing a fair return to the taxpayer and mitigating worsening climate impacts – while remaining steadfast in the process. pursuit of environmental justice. ”

A 100-year-old system that charges private oil companies with drilling and producing federally-owned oil and gas fields – another program supports coal production on federal lands – the program was designed to improve the national energy production and empty federal coffers.

But the program became a goal for both conservatives and environmentalists under the climate-focused Biden administration.

Green groups complained that Biden had not done enough to reduce fossil fuel use on public lands, the only area of ​​the country’s oil and gas production where the White House has direct influence.

Activists and environmental justice groups have become increasingly hostile to the oil program due to its importance on public lands, which they believe should be reserved for uses such as wildlife, wilderness, springs. clean energy and recreation rather than the development of fossil fuels.

But oil champions have argued that the traditional industry can coexist with other uses, while warning that the depression in oil and natural gas production on federal lands will only send drillers elsewhere and will not much to reduce emissions.

The Biden administration called for this review of the federal oil and gas program in January to consider its return to the U.S. taxpayer, its climate impacts, and whether to change royalty rates to offset some of the programs’ climate-damaging emissions. .

The Interior pledged shortly after to issue an interim report on its findings by the summer, but delayed its release without explanation.

A GOP lawmaker today suggested that releasing the report during the recess is intentional, a way to reduce public scrutiny of the reform agenda.

“The DOI is quietly releasing this report over a holiday weekend, months after promising it, in the hope that no one notices their continued attacks on home energy,” said Bruce Westerman (R-Ark.) .

Westerman accused the administration of proposing reforms to undermine energy production.

“They will cover up their attacks under the guise of ‘increased criticism’, ‘needed reforms’, ‘royalty rate adjustments’ and more, but we know the real story,” he said. “They will bog down small energy companies for years of regulatory deadlock, lock up millions of acres of resource-rich land, ignore local inputs and sell to foreign suppliers.”

Natural Resources Chamber speaker Raúl Grijalva, who has used his leadership position to push forward a series of oil and gas reforms included in the report, said his findings underscore the need for Congress to act. Measures such as increased royalty rates and stricter bond requirements could be included in the pending reconciliation case being debated on Capitol Hill.

“The administration must manage public lands and waters in accordance with its climate commitments, and today’s report does not propose a plan to do so,” Grijalva, an Arizona Democrat, said in a statement. . and long-awaited reforms to the federal fossil fuel rental program, which until now has been a public subsidy for oil and gas drilling and extraction. “

Today, some environmental advocates were quick to back the reform suggestions, which are familiar political demands of environmental groups.

“This report presents an incredibly compelling case both economically and environmentally to bring the federal oil and gas leasing program into the 21st century,” said Collin O’Mara, president of the National Wildlife Federation. “Implementing these overdue reforms will ensure that taxpayers, communities and wildlife are no longer harmed by below-market rates, insufficient protections and poor planning. “

But others countered that the proposals fail to take into account the reality of climate change.

“These trivial changes make almost no sense in the midst of this climate emergency, and they break Biden’s campaign pledge to stop new oil and gas rentals on public lands,” said Randi Spivak, director of public lands. public lands of the Center for Biological Diversity.

Journalist Emma Dumain contributed.

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