U.S. President Joe Biden's administration has proposed up to 10 oil and gas lease sales in the Gulf of Mexico and one off the coast of Alaska over the next five years, contradicting Democrats' climate promises while scaling back a Trump-era plan that called for dozens of offshore drilling opportunities, including undeveloped areas, according to the Associated Press' (AP) Janet McConnaughey and Matthew Brown.
Photo Insert: US President Joe Biden delivering remarks on gas prices, in which he called for a gas tax holiday to help ease the pain Americans are feeling at the pump
Interior Secretary Deb Haaland said fewer than 11 lease sales — or even no lease sales at all — could occur, with a final decision not due for months. New drilling off the Atlantic and Pacific coasts would be blocked, after being considered under Trump.
“President Biden and I have made clear our commitment to transition to a clean energy economy. Today, we put forward an opportunity for the American people to ... provide input on the future of offshore oil and gas leasing,” said Haaland, whose agency oversees drilling on federal lands and waters.
The proposal brought immediate backlash from both environmentalists — who accused Biden of betraying the climate cause — and oil industry officials and allies, who said it would do little to help counter high energy prices.
Gasoline prices averaged $4.84 per gallon on Friday, putting a strain on commuters and becoming a political albatross for Biden's fellow Democrats as the midterm elections approached. This has left the White House scurrying for ideas, including Biden's proposal last week to suspend the federal gas tax of 18.4 cents per gallon.
The Interior Department had suspended lease sales in late January due to climate concerns, but a U.S. District Court in Louisiana ordered them to resume. When the Biden administration canceled the remaining scheduled lease sales in the Gulf and Alaska during the previous offshore leasing cycle, it cited conflicting court opinions about that decision.
The last five-year cycle, implemented by former President Barack Obama, concluded on Thursday.
There will be a months-long pause before a new plan can be implemented. According to Matthew Daly of the Associated Press, the oil industry and its allies believe the delay will pose challenges in planning future drilling and may result in lower oil production.