President Biden is being criticized from both sides as he attempts to satisfy the left’s climate change goals and Americans who are suffering at the pump.
Environmentalists and Big Oil both came out swinging against his administration’s proposal for a new five-year plan for federal sales of offshore oil and natural gas leases.
The plan proposed by the Interior Department allows for up to 10 lease sales in the central and western Gulf of Mexico and one off the coast of Alaska. However, it also leaves open the possibility that a final version may not include any new lease sales through 2028. As expected, no new sales were slated for the Atlantic and Pacific coasts.
A maximum of 11 new sales over the next five years is a significant reduction from a Trump-era plan that called for 47 over the same amount of time.
Democrats and environmentalists said the long-awaited proposal flies in the face of Mr. Biden’s campaign pledge to end all new drilling offshore and on federal lands and that there would be no immediate impact on gas prices.
Energy industry allies derided the plan’s potential for no new sales, a decision that the administration put off until later. It would take years for any new energy production, but advocates argue that the potential for more offshore drilling would provide assurances to U.S. producers about the future of oil and natural gas.
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Martin Durbin, president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Global Energy Institute, described it as “more mixed signals” and “another punch in the gut to consumers and businesses suffering from high energy prices and inflation.”
“Reliable, affordable energy requires long-term planning, a government-wide approach and clear signals to the market. This proposal provides none of that,” Mr. Durbin said. “It defies common sense to allow the five-year plan to lapse for the first time ever and propose restricting oil and natural gas development at home while asking OPEC nations to produce more.”
Oil companies and industry stakeholders have urged Mr. Biden to curb his anti-fossil fuel rhetoric because of its chilling effect on investor sentiment and production.
Democrats and climate activists also were unsatisfied with the noncommittal position.
Rep. Raúl Grijalva, an Arizona Democrat who is chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, said any new sales would be “nonsensical” and a “lose-lose for Americans.”
Rep. Jared Huffman, California Democrat, called the potential lease sales “ill-advised,” while Rep. Kathy Castor, Florida Democrat, accused Big Oil of price gouging consumers and warned that new leases would reward energy company executives “for keeping gas prices artificially high.”
Offshore drilling accounts for roughly 15% of domestic oil production and about 3% of natural gas production, according to Energy Information Administration data reviewed by the Natural Resources Defense Council.
Sen. Joe Manchin III, chairman of the Senate Energy Committee, was the lone Democrat to buck his party. He echoed the concerns that the energy industry has over the consideration of no new sales.
“I am disappointed to see that ‘zero’ lease sales is even an option on the table,” the West Virginia Democrat said. “I hope the administration will ultimately greenlight a plan that will expand domestic energy production, done in the cleanest way possible, while also taking the necessary steps to get our offshore leasing program back on track to give the necessary market signals to provide price relief for every American.”
The previous five-year offshore leasing plan expired at the end of June. While Interior has a new draft proposal, there will be a gap in the program until it is finalized. That presents economic and national security risks, the American Petroleum Institute said.
The potential for no sales represents a “continuation of a policy that has gone on for far too long,” API’s Frank Macchiarola said.
Interior is seeking public comment on the proposal through August.
“From Day One, President Biden and I have made clear our commitment to transition to a clean energy economy,” Interior Secretary Deb Haaland said. “We put forward an opportunity for the American people to consider and provide input on the future of offshore oil and gas leasing. The time for the public to weigh in on our future is now.”