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Biden admin recommends increase in oil and gas leasing fees but eco warriors call it 'meaningless'

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The Biden administration’s Interior Department is calling for an increase in leasing fees for gas and oil drillers after a review of practices on federal lands.

However, the report largely ignores climate change issues and does not recommend stopping leasing federal lands to gas and oil drillers, something President Biden campaigned on. The report was commissioned by the president at the start of the year. 

It outlines fiscal reforms for America’s oil and gas federal programs, which the report says currently ‘fail to provide a fair return to taxpayers, even before factoring in the resulting climate-related costs that must be borne by taxpayers.’

Biden has faced criticism from climate activists for continuing to auction drilling bids in the Gulf of Mexico, something at odds with what the president promised during his bid for the White House. 

The report argues that these programs are outdated and haven’t had their fees raised in a century.  

The Biden administration's interior department is calling for an increase in leasing fees for gas and oil drillers

The Biden administration’s interior department is calling for an increase in leasing fees for gas and oil drillers

Biden has faced criticism from climate activists for continuing to auction drilling bids in the Gulf of Mexico, something at odds with what the president campaigned on

Biden has faced criticism from climate activists for continuing to auction drilling bids in the Gulf of Mexico, something at odds with what the president campaigned on

Interior Secretary Deb Haaland (pictured) said the reforms would allow the United States to pursue fiscal and environmental goals

Interior Secretary Deb Haaland (pictured) said the reforms would allow the United States to pursue fiscal and environmental goals

‘Consideration should be given to raising royalty rates and, to the extent allowed by statute, to increasing the current minimum levels for bids, rents, royalties, and bonds,’ the report states.

The review also demands Congress act ‘on pending legislation to provide fundamental reforms to the onshore and offshore oil and gas programs.’

The report has been criticized by environmental groups, who argue it doesn’t do enough to address climate change.  

‘These trivial changes are nearly meaningless in the midst of this climate emergency, and they break Biden’s campaign promise to stop new oil and gas leasing on public lands,’ said Randi Spivak, public lands director at the Center for Biological Diversity.

‘Greenlighting more fossil fuel extraction, then pretending it’s OK by nudging up royalty rates, is like rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic. There’s no time left for baby steps that let the fossil-fuel industry wreak even greater havoc on the Earth.’

House Natural Resources Chair Raúl Grijalva (left) said the report lacks permanent solutions

House Natural Resources Chair Raúl Grijalva (left) said the report lacks permanent solutions

Biden and Haaland have both faced criticism for not pursuing reforms to stop climate change quickly enough

Biden and Haaland have both faced criticism for not pursuing reforms to stop climate change quickly enough

‘We urge the Biden administration to build on this report by phasing out new oil and gas leasing altogether,’ said Athan Manuel, director of the Sierra Club’s Lands Protection Program, ‘and we call on Congress to include these reforms in the final Build Back Better Act to ensure that our public lands are part of the climate solution, instead of enriching oil company CEOs at the public’s expense.’ 

Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland said the report will allow the nation to balance both fiscal and environmental goals.

‘The Interior Department has an obligation to responsibly manage our public lands and waters – providing a fair return to the taxpayer and mitigating worsening climate impacts – while staying steadfast in the pursuit of environmental justice,’ Haaland said in a statement Friday. 

‘This review outlines significant deficiencies in the federal oil and gas programs, and identifies important and urgent fiscal and programmatic reforms that will benefit the American people.’ 

The Biden administration had tried to stop new oil and gas drilling early in its tenure, but a lawsuit by 13 states blocked that pause. The decision is currently under appeal. 

The Biden administration had tried to stop new oil and gas drilling early in its tenure, but a lawsuit by 13 states blocked that pause

The Biden administration had tried to stop new oil and gas drilling early in its tenure, but a lawsuit by 13 states blocked that pause

House Natural Resources Chair Raúl Grijalva said the report lacks permanent solutions.     

‘The administration needs to manage public lands and waters consistent with its climate commitments, and today’s report does not offer a plan to do that,’ the Arizona Democrat said in a statement. ‘What it does offer is a set of important and long overdue reforms to the federal fossil fuel leasing program, which until now has been a public subsidy for oil and gas drilling and extraction.’ 

Grijalva added that there needs to be greater public transparency around the contracts.    

Friday’s report also follows President Biden’s announcement that the country will release emergency oil reserves to combat high energy prices ahead of the busy holiday travel season.

President Biden promised America would ‘lead by example’ at the UN climate summit COP26 earlier this month. 

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