Biden reverses course, re-starts sales of oil, gas leases on public lands

In a move more akin to the policies of former President Donald Trump, President Joe Biden’s Interior Department announced on Friday that it would resume sales of new oil and gas leases on public lands and increase royalty rates thereon, as The Hill reports.

The decision amounts to a significant reversal of the administration’s decision to freeze new leases on public lands almost immediately after Biden’s inauguration – a policy that was ultimately the subject of an unfavorable ruling in the form of an injunction from a federal court.

Citing that outcome as a reason for the shift in approach, the Interior Department indicated that it would promulgate sales notices for the impending lease offerings this week and added that the applicable royalty rate would be raised from 12.5% to 18.75%.

As Fox News noted, the news comes amid continued high gas prices and a startling degree of overall inflationary pressure, both of which threaten the stability of the economy heading into the upcoming midterm election battles.

According to NPR, the administration’s announcement drew criticism from both sides of the political aisle, however, with environmental advocates expressing anger over the lifting of the prior halt on leases and oil industry lobbyists opining that higher royalty rates could discourage additional drilling.

Randi Spivak of the Center for Biological Diversity blasted the decision, saying, “The Biden administration’s claim that it must hold these lease sales is pure fiction and a reckless failure of climate leadership. It’s as if they’re ignoring the horror of firestorms, floods and megadroughts, and accepting climate castrophes as business as usual.”

Nicole Ghio of environmental activist group Friends of the Earth put her organization’s take on the situation rather more bluntly, stating, “If Biden wants to be a climate leader, he must stop auctioning off our public lands to Big Oil.”

Speaking from the other side of the equation was Frank Macchiarola, vice president of the American Petroleum Institute, who lamented that despite re-starting some lease sales, the administration had removed from potential purchase many of the key parcels companies hoped to drill, while also instituting “new barriers” that would serve as a disincentive to new production.

Also slamming the royalty increase was Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY), who declared, “After begging American oil and natural gas companies for months to produce more, the Biden administration is still doing all it can to restrict leasing on federal lands… . The president claims he’s doing nothing to limit domestic production, but once again his administration is making American energy more expensive and harder to produce.”