“End Fossil Fuels is pretty clear,” said one advocate. “Not ‘hold slightly fewer lease sales,’ not ‘talk about climate action’—End. Fossil. Fuels.”
By Julia Conley, Common Dreams
Rejecting the corporate media’s narrative that U.S. President Joe Biden’s newly-released offshore drilling plan includes the “fewest-ever” drilling leases, dozens of climate action and marine conservation groups on Friday said the president had “missed an easy opportunity to do the right thing” and follow through on his campaign promise to end all lease sales for oil and gas extraction in the nation’s waters.
The U.S. Interior Department announced Friday its five-year plan for the National Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program, including three new areas in the Gulf of Mexico where fossil fuel companies will be permitted to drill.
Biden promised “no new drilling, period” as a presidential candidate, and the plan was announced six months after climate advocates were incensed by the administration’s approval of the Willow oil drilling project in Alaska.
The new leases will be added to more than 9,000 drilling leases that have already been sold, and is “incompatible with reaching President Biden’s goal of cutting emissions by 50-52% by 2030,” said the Protect All Our Coasts Coalition, citing the findings of Biden’s own Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and its Office of Atmospheric Protection earlier this year.
While the final plan scales back from the eleven sales that were originally proposed, said the coalition, “the plan is a step backwards from the climate goals the administration has set and for environmental justice communities across the Gulf South, who are already experiencing the disproportionate impact of fossil fuel extraction across the region.”
The coalition includes the Port Arthur Community Action Network, which has called attention to the risks posed to public health in the Gulf region by continued fossil fuel extraction.
“Folks in Port Arthur, Texas die daily from cancer, respiratory, heart, and kidney disease from the very pollution that would come from more leases and drilling,” said John Beard, the founder, president, and executive director of the group. “If Biden is to truly be the environmental president, he should stop any further leasing and all forms of the petrochemical build-out, call for a climate emergency, and jumpstart the transition to clean green, renewable energy, and lift the toxic pollution from overburdened communities.”
Kendall Dix, national policy director of Taproot Earth, dismissed political think tanks that applauded the “historically few lease sales” on Friday.
“The earth does not recognize political ‘victories,'” said Dix, pointing to an intrusion of saltwater in South Louisiana’s drinking water in recent weeks, which has been exacerbated by the fossil fuel-driven climate crisis.
“As the head of the United Nations and has said, continued fossils fuel development is incompatible with human survival,” he added. “We need to transition to justly sourced renewable energy that’s democratically managed and accountable to frontline communities as quickly as possible.”
Along with groups in the Gulf region, national organizations on Friday condemned a plan that they said blatantly ignores the repeated warnings of international energy experts and the world’s top climate scientists who say no new fossil fuel expansion is compatible with a pathway to limiting planetary heating to 1.5°C.
“Sacrificing millions of acres in the Gulf of Mexico for oil and gas extraction when scientists are clear that we must end fossil fuel expansion immediately is a gross denial of reality by Joe Biden in the face of climate catastrophe,” said Collin Rees, United States program manager at Oil Change International. “Doubling down on drilling is a direct violation of President Biden’s prior commitments and continues a concerning trend.”
Rees noted that 75,000 people marched in New York City last week to demand that Biden declare a climate emergency and end support for any new fossil fuel extraction projects.
“End Fossil Fuels is pretty clear,” said Rees, referring to campaigners’ rallying cry. “Not ‘hold slightly fewer lease sales,’ not ‘talk about climate action’—End. Fossil. Fuels.”
Despite Biden’s campaign promises, Rees noted, the U.S. is currently “on track to expand fossil fuel production more than any other country by 2050.”
“I feel disgusted and incredibly let down by Biden’s offshore drilling plan. It piles more harm on already-struggling ecosystems, endangered species and the global climate,” said Brady Bradshaw, senior oceans campaigner at the Center for Biological Diversity, another member of the Protect All Our Coasts Coalition. “We need Biden to commit to a fossil fuel phaseout, but actions like this condemn us to oil spills, climate disasters, and decades of toxic harm to communities and wildlife.”
The lease sales, said Sarah Winter Whelan of the Healthy Ocean Coalition, also represent a missed opportunity by the administration to treat the world’s oceans “as a climate solution, not a source for further climate disaster.”
Under the Inflation Reduction Act, negotiated by the White House last year, the government is required to offer at least 60 million acres of offshore gas and oil leases before developing new wind power projects of similar scope.
“A single new lease sale for offshore oil and gas exploration is one too many,” said Whelan. “Communities around the country are already dealing with exacerbating impacts from climate disruption caused by our reliance on fossil fuels. Any increase in our dependence on fossil fuels just bakes in greater impacts to humanity.”
Gulf communities, added Beard, “refuse to be sacrificed” for fossil fuel profits.
“We say enough is enough,” he said.
Julia Conley is a staff writer for Common Dreams.
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