In such hyper-partisan times, it’s nice to know there are some things both political parties can agree on—namely, that we’re insanely giving the oil industry permission to drill more wells while the world burns.
This month, the Biden Administration opened up 80 million acres of the Gulf of Mexico to oil and gas companies, making it the largest-ever, off-shore lease sale in U.S. history. The timing of the sale is peculiar considering President Biden recently returned from the COP26 global climate summit in Glasgow, Scotland, where he promised to slash carbon emissions and “demonstrate to the world the United States is not only back at the table, but hopefully leading by the power of our example.”
This may come as a surprise. Biden used the environment as one of the biggest policy differences between him and former President Donald Trump throughout the campaign, promising to take major action to combat climate catastrophe. On the campaign trail, Biden promised to “transition away from the oil industry,” to eliminate emissions from the power sector by 2035 and reach net-zero emissions across the U.S. by 2050. While this might appear ambitious (and considering Republican intransigence, you could argue that it is very ambitious), these goals, according to climate scientists, are the bare minimum required to avert the worst effects of climate catastrophe. Biden is failing to even meet the paltry goals of his own climate policy.
By opening up the Gulf to drilling, Biden continues a disturbing trend of approving oil and gas permits on public lands and water. From Jan. 20 through Oct. 31 of this year, the administration has approved 3,091 onshore drilling permits, averaging 332 per month. The Trump administration, by comparison, averaged 316 permits in its last three years. Biden also renewed the leases of 18 coal mines—the worst energy polluters—for another decade. Thirteen of those mines were granted reductions in royalty fees that are used to pay the federal government to operate on public land, effectively subsidizing the coal industry.
Regarding the Gulf, the administration claims its hands are tied. When Biden initially issued a pause on leasing earlier this year, a Louisiana federal judge (and Trump appointee) granted an injunction back in June that lifted the pause. But the U.S. Department of Justice could have sought a stay on the Louisiana judge’s order from the appeals court and delayed the sale as well as reduce the amount of acreage offered.
Obviously, the oil and gas companies are elated. The American Petroleum Institute called it a "positive step for America's energy future.” As for you tree huggers who are concerned about the pollution caused by drilling in the Gulf, fear not. Research firm and oil consultancy Wood Mackenzie claims that deep water oil in the Gulf has the lowest emissions of all oil-producing regions. So relax! The BP Deepwater Horizon explosion that hemorrhaged 4.9 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico was more than 10 years ago—it’s not like it’s happening every year.
It all seems so silly. Banning offshore drilling at the federal level would likely be a popular policy, especially in a purple state like Florida. Back in 2018, Florida overwhelmingly voted to ban offshore drilling in state waters when 68 percent of the voters passed Amendment 9. Even the Republican Legislature in Florida, the party which once banned government use of the term “climate change,” has now set aside millions of dollars to help prepare for sea level rise threatening our state’s shores in the latest budget announcement. (Still, all the state is doing is preparing for it instead of slowing or mitigating it.)
So what are we take make of all this? The Biden administration was supposed to be climate champions. We celebrated Deb Haaland's selection to lead the Department of the Interior as the first American Indian cabinet member, but she has since proven she’s going to continue the same ol’ same ol’. It reveals we are not a country torn apart by two different political ideologies—we are a country ruled by a single driving force.
So, this upcoming holiday season, if you’re worried that political tensions are running high at the dinner table, find some common ground and agree that whether you’re red or blue, we are all getting screwed.