The US Department of the Interior is reopening oil and gas lease sales on public lands this summer and increasing the fees tenants must pay.
the announcement follows President Joe Biden’s efforts to reform the federal oil and gas program. Last year, a federal judge blocked Biden moratorium on new leases. And then a sale that was supposed to take place earlier this year was delayed by a legal wrangling on the administration’s “social cost of carbon” policy.
New rent sale include 144,000 acres of public land, mostly in the Mountain West region. Interior noted that this is about 80% less area than the originally designated oil and gas industry.
And the agency is increasing fees for new leases, from 12.5% to 18.75% – a rate that had disappeared unchanged for more than a century.
Reviews are varied. A little oil and gas industrial groups and lawmakers like Wyoming Sen. John Barrasso say the policies are at odds with efforts to lower fuel prices.
“After months of begging U.S. oil and gas companies for more production, the Biden administration is still doing everything it can to restrict leasing on federal lands,” Barrasso said in a statement. statement.
Leases can take years or more to produce fuel, which could affect gasoline prices. The Ministry of the Interior reported last year, about 14 million acres — more than half of all leased federal acres — sit unused.
Some environmental groups are also critical of the Interior’s announcement, saying any lease contributes to climate change and would disproportionately affect Indigenous groups and people of color.
“It’s as if they’re ignoring the horror of firestorms, floods and mega-droughts, and accepting weather disasters as business as usual. These so-called reforms come 20 years too late and will only continue to fuel the climate emergency,” Randi Spivak, director of public lands at the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement.
The nonprofit Center for Western Priorities is one of the few organizations to praise the plan.
“We think that’s the best-case scenario,” said Aaron Weiss, the assistant manager there.
He said the Interior is caught between dueling legal opinions, the oil industry, climate activists and the law.
“They work under a 100-year-old law, the Mining Leases Act, which says the Home Office must hold quarterly lease sales,” he said.
The Interior also noted that it would ensure “tribal consultation and broad community input” in lease sales.
“That, I think, is a sign of the importance of finally having a native secretary in the interior, – finally having a secretary who finally takes tribal consultations seriously. And that’s a big deal,” Weiss said.
Weiss added that his group has a big critique for the Interior, though: They’re still waiting and hoping for a full review of the hiring system promised by the Biden administration.
“I haven’t seen any significant signs of this happening, and it’s a huge concern for us,” he said. “Because to do this review properly, for it to stand up in court, for it to lead to this long-term policy change, which takes years. The clock is ticking.”
This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O’Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in the Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations throughout the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the public broadcasting company.
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