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Biden admin launches oil and gas drilling auction just ahead of COP28

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Picture: Andrew Harnik / EPA-EFE / POOL / November 7, 2020 – Then President-elect Joe Biden. The president promised while campaigning in 2020 to ban oil and gas leases on federal lands, but even before signing the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) in 2022, thereby approving a stipulation requiring the White House to continue selling oil and gas drilling rights in order to develop offshore wind power, Biden faced condemnation for approving oil and gas leases at a faster rate than former Republican President Donald Trump, the writer says.

By Julia Conley

“Instead of doing the necessary work to fight climate change, Biden continues to support the expansion of fossil fuels here in the US,” one advocate said.

As world leaders prepared to head to Dubai for the 28th United Nations Climate Change Conference on Tuesday, the US Interior Department underscored President Joe Biden’s non-attendance at the summit by moving to sell $3.4 million in oil and gas drilling leases — just the first in a series of drilling auctions set to take place over the next two weeks while other leaders discuss the need to reduce fossil fuel emissions.

The US Bureau of Land Management (BLM) put up 37 parcels of land covering 35,000 acres of land in Wyoming, but ultimately sold 18 parcels on 21,500 acres. The agency ultimately hopes to sell drilling rights on 44,000 acres in the state as well as in New Mexico, Nevada, North Dakota, Oklahoma, and Utah, with the final sale taking place as the climate change conference (COP28) wraps up on December 12.

Nicole Ghio, senior fossil fuels programme manager at Friends of the Earth, told the Washington Examiner that the sale was “the latest in a string of disappointments” regarding Biden’s continued support for fossil fuel extraction.

“Instead of doing the necessary work to fight climate change, Biden continues to support the expansion of fossil fuels here in the US, including leasing public lands and waters for drilling and pushing forward with mega projects like Willow in Alaska,” Ghio told the outlet.

The president promised while campaigning in 2020 to ban oil and gas leases on federal lands, but upon signing the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) in 2022, he approved a stipulation requiring the White House to continue selling oil and gas drilling rights in order to develop offshore wind power — a demand made by right-wing Senator Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia).

Even before the IRA was signed into law, Biden faced condemnation for approving oil and gas leases at a faster rate than former Republican President Donald Trump.

The Biden administration approved 6,430 permits for oil and gas drilling on public lands in its first two years, while the Trump administration approved 6,172 permits in 2017 and 2018.

Climate groups have said in recent days that by skipping COP28 — where other Biden officials will reportedly be in attendance — the president is forgoing an opportunity to strengthen his administration’s record on the climate.

“If Biden wants to be taken seriously on climate by young people at home and by the rest of the world, he needs to use every tool at his disposal to mobilise the US government to save lives,” Michele Weindling, political director for the Sunrise Movement, told The New York Times on Monday.

In addition to moving forward with lease sales including this week’s auction in Wyoming and the approval of a five-year plan to allow drilling in the Gulf of Mexico — announced in September, during which scientists were stunned by “mindblowing” high global temperatures — Biden has allowed crude oil to reach record production levels, according toing to the US Energy Information Administration.

As Common Dreams reported on Monday, a Centre for Biological Diversity report found that Biden’s approval of oil and gas projects is projected to exceed any emissions reductions achieved by the IRA and his other climate policies.

At COP28 in the coming weeks, advocates and world leaders are expected to discuss how “current policies make it likely that global warming will exceed 1.5°C during the 21st century and make it harder to limit warming below 2°C,” the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said Tuesday.

“On the eve of COP28, the problem is clear,” said Simon Stiell, executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. “Business-as-usual is breaking our planet.”

Julia Conley is a staff writer for Common Dreams.