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Biden’s Inner Circle Debates Future of Offshore Drilling

WASHINGTON — President Biden’s top aides are considering whether to ban new oil and gas drilling off U.S. shores, a move that would excite climate activists but could leave the administration vulnerable to Republican accusations that it is exacerbating an energy crisis as gas prices rise.

By law, the Department of the Interior must release a plan every five years for new oil and gas leases in federal waters. Interior secretary Deb Haaland has promised Congress that a draft of the Biden plan will be available on June 30.

With the administration well aware that inflation and high prices at the pump are weighing on voters in the run-up to November’s midterm elections, the White House is shaping the plan, two administration officials said.

President Biden’s inner circle, which includes Chief of Staff Ron Klain and former adviser Steve Ricchetti, is deeply involved in the debate over whether or not to allow drilling, the officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity as they were not authorized. for the deliberations.

“The Biden administration is in a difficult position,” said Sara Rollet Gosman, a professor of environmental and energy law at the University of Arkansas. “If the Department of the Interior decides to abolish offshore leasing or only offer a few sales, it will be good for the climate. But it also gives ammunition to fossil fuel companies to claim that President Biden doesn’t care about high gas prices.”

Several people familiar with the administration’s decision-making said it is likely that new drilling in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans will be blocked, despite widespread bipartisan opposition from members of Congress and leaders of coastal states. The eastern Gulf of Mexico has been closed to drilling since 1995.

It is still under consideration whether to continue leasing leases in parts of the Arctic Ocean and in the western and central Gulf of Mexico.

As a candidate, Mr. Biden pledged to end new drilling on public lands and in federal waters. Environmentalists have argued that offshore drilling has no place in a clean energy future. They are pressuring the government to ban drilling across the entire outer continental shelf in order to reduce the United States’ contribution to climate change.

“We’ve been very clear in our discussions with the Interior Department that we expect the president to uphold his campaign commitment to end new leases,” said Diane Hoskins, campaign director at Oceana, an environmental advocacy group.

The International Energy Agency has said countries should stop approving new coal mines, or oil and gas fields, to limit global warming to an average of 1.5 degrees Celsius, compared to pre-industrial levels. That’s the threshold above which the likelihood of catastrophic heatwaves, droughts, floods and widespread extinctions increases significantly. The earth has warmed on average 1.1 degrees Celsius since the industrial revolution.

If Biden issues new drilling contracts, he risks alienating climate-conscious voters who need Democrats for this fall’s midterm elections, said Tré Easton, a Democratic strategist.

“Joe Biden breaking a big campaign promise and renewing new leases will not affect energy prices in this country,” he said. “It’s a distraction and I really hope the White House recognizes it as such.”

Areas made available for lease under the blueprint would be auctioned until 2027. It can be years between a rental sale and the production of gas or oil from offshore drilling.

Still, the fossil fuel industry and Republicans blame the Biden administration for record high gas prices and accuse it of slowing fossil fuel production.

On Wednesday, Biden called on Congress to temporarily suspend the federal gas tax to provide motorists with some relief. The government has also released strategic petroleum reserves, suspended a summer ban on the sale of gasoline blends with higher ethanol content, and urged US oil producers to ramp up production.

Republicans say the government is trying to get it from both sides.

“The government cannot pretend to support oil and gas production while doing everything it can to slow down and block expanded production on public lands,” Wyoming Republican Senator John Barrasso said at a recent hearing where he and others Mrs. Haaland on the five-year plan.

The draft five-year plan for the National Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program is expected to include several options, including a “no action alternative” — that is, not offering new lease sales, which has happened in the past.

Melissa Schwartz, a spokeswoman for the Interior Department, declined to comment on the internal deliberations, saying no decisions have been made yet.

“The department is working hard on developing the five-year plan. I have no update on the timing,” Ms. Schwartz said.

At one point, the Biden administration had considered limiting new drilling to the central and western Gulf of Mexico, according to three people briefed on the matter.

Erik Milito, president of the National Ocean Industries Association, which represents offshore energy companies, said this would harm consumers. New leases in the Gulf of Mexico could mean an additional 2.4 million barrels of crude oil per day — an amount that “could have a global impact on the market,” he said.

Last month, the Biden administration canceled the rental sale in federal waters at Alaska’s Cook Inlet, due to a lack of industry interest.

Once Alaska’s primary oil well, the Cook Inlet basin is now primarily a source of natural gas for local utilities, and large-scale projects have been rare in recent years, energy experts say. Still, the industry wants Arctic waters to be available for future potential leases.

Once the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Management releases the five-year plan, there will be a period of public comment before it becomes final. Past presidents have used the plan to alternately open or slam the door to uncontrolled development to prevent new drilling.

President Obama banned drilling in parts of the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas in the Arctic Ocean, later invoking an obscure provision of a 1953 law, the Outer Continental Shelf Lawto also ban drilling along areas along the Atlantic coast.

President Trump attempted to open all United States coastal waters to oil and gas drilling, including areas protected by the Obama administration.

But toward the end of his administration, and under intense pressure from Florida Republicans who feared drilling would harm tourism, Mr. Trump signed an executive order banning drilling off the coasts of Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, and Mexico for 10 years. North Carolina.

Mr Trump’s broader plan was never finalized. Ms Haaland has told lawmakers the Trump administration stopped working on a five-year plan in 2018 and that “several conflicting lawsuits” were contributing to delays, she said.

The offshore oil and gas lease plan has found itself at the center of a debate over the government’s oil and gas decisions. Shortly after taking office, President Biden signed an executive order to pause the issuance of new leases — but a successful legal challenge from Republican states and the oil industry has forced the government to sell new leases.

The board is appealing that decision. At the same time, it’s defending itself in another Republican-led lawsuit that seeks to prevent the government from considering the economic costs of climate change from drilling and other actions it allows.

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