A climate-action executive order signed by President Joe Biden on Wednesday was cheered by conservationists and top Colorado Democratic political officeholders while being met by an immediate legal challenge over a provision suspending oil and gas leasing involving federal lands and waters pending a review.
The wide-ranging executive order also includes measures such as making climate considerations an essential element of U.S. foreign policy and national security, seeking to conserve 30% of lands and oceans by 2030, creating a White House Office of Domestic Climate Policy and a National Climate Task Force, and directing federal agencies to procure carbon-free electricity and zero-emission vehicles, eliminate fossil fuel subsidies and work to spur clean-energy technologies and infrastructure.
“The United States and the world face a profound climate crisis,” Biden’s order says. “We have a narrow moment to pursue action at home and abroad in order to avoid the most catastrophic impacts of that crisis and to seize the opportunity that tackling climate change presents. Domestic action must go hand in hand with United States international leadership, aimed at significantly enhancing global action.”
Colorado Gov. Jared Polis, a Democrat, said in a statement, “National progress on moving to cleaner, less expensive cars and cleaner energy is good for America and good for Colorado.”
“… As we tackle the impacts of climate change and air pollution locally and nationally — now that we have a President that believes in science — Colorado’s strong environmental laws, my administration’s Greenhouse Gas Pollution Reduction Roadmap, and the state’s longstanding leadership in the clean energy economy and the conservation of our vast great outdoors can serve as valuable examples to the new federal administration as they tackle these critical issues.
U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., said in a statement just ahead of Biden announcing the climate executive actions, “Climate change is a major threat to our national security, our economy, our health, and our way of life. I applaud the Biden-Harris Administration’s commitment to tackling this challenge and encourage them to work with the state, tribal, and local leaders who have led on this issue for years.”
Biden’s executive order Wednesday doesn’t say how long the leasing moratorium will last. It says the Interior secretary will pause issuing new leases pending a comprehensive review and reconsideration of federal oil and gas permitting and leasing practices. The review will include a look at whether to adjust royalties charged for coal, oil and gas extraction from public lands and waters or consider other action “to account for corresponding climate costs.”
The leasing moratorium will particularly affect western Colorado because of its large amount of federal land overlapping oil and gas resources in places such as the Piceance Basin. New U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert, a Colorado Republican whose district will be affected by the moratorium, blasted the move in a news release.
“Blocking future oil and gas leases on 700 million acres is an unlawful attack on the livelihoods of the people in my district,” she said. “COVID lockdowns have created enough unemployment and economic challenges without Joe Biden delivering more pink slips to thousands of Coloradans. People are losing everything they have and the only thing this president cares about is appeasing extremist environmentalists.”
Biden’s order says the leasing moratorium is to be carried out “to the extent consistent with applicable law.” As it previously had threatened to do, the Western Energy Alliance oil and gas trade association on Wednesday immediately sued to challenge the lease moratorium. The group contends Biden’s order exceeds presidential authority and violates the Mineral Leasing Act and other federal laws.
“All Americans own the oil and natural gas beneath public lands, and Congress has directed them to be responsibly developed on their behalf,” Kathleen Sgamma, the alliance’s president, said in announcing the suit. “Drying up new leasing puts future development as well as existing projects at risk.”
She said the action also jeopardizes national park and public lands funding less than a year after the Great American Outdoors Act was passed and directed $1.3 billion annually in oil and gas leasing and production revenue toward conservation. She said it also puts at risk the Land and Water Conservation Fund because it depends on federal offshore oil and gas revenue. The Great American Outdoors Act permanently and fully funded the LWCF program at the $900 million a year originally authorized by Congress.
Robert Boswell, chairman and CEO of local natural gas developer Laramie Energy, said, “All this is being done in the name of climate change and the green policies being implemented will hurt the U.S. to the benefit of foreign countries who do not meet greenhouse standards.”
Sarah Shrader, owner of Bonsai Designs in Grand Junction, noted in a Zoom meeting with The Daily Sentinel’s editorial board Wednesday that the moratorium announced Wednesday affects future leasing rather than stopping drilling on existing leases.
“It’s literally just the tying up the land with speculative leasing is what they’re putting a moratorium on,” said Shrader.
According to the Center for Western Priorities, BLM data shows that about 13.4 million acres of federal oil and gas leases aren’t in production. Schrader is among those who worry that land tied up in undeveloped leases could be kept from use for other purposes such as recreational trail development.
Scott Braden, director of the Colorado Wildlands Project, noted in the editorial board meeting that little drilling is now occurring locally, and said that provides a good opportunity for the Biden administration’s review of leasing and permitting.
“This seems like a good time to sort through some of these issues while there’s obviously not a huge amount of demand for additional oil and gas drilling on the Western Slope,” he said.
Gabriel Otero, a former oil and gas worker now working with the Wilderness Society, said leases aren’t being developed because of low oil and gas prices and he’s seen many friends in the industry being laid off.
“It’s not like this (moratorium) policy is shutting everything down right now,” he said.
Polis said in his news release that the state will work with the Biden administration as it begins its review “of energy development policy on public lands to ensure that it works for Colorado. And as long as the review is completed expeditiously we don’t expect an economic impact in the short-term with current market factors and the many existing unused leases and permits.”
Biden’s action Wednesday came as more than 60 organizations and community leaders — including groups such as WildEarth Guardians, the Colorado Sierra Club, Battlement Concerned Citizens and the Grand Valley Citizens Alliance — delivered Polis and his administration a letter saying the administration should make plans to phase out oil and gas development by 2030.
They say the action is needed to address shortcomings in the state’s greenhouse gas emissions roadmap. Such an effort almost certainly would face legal challenges, including from owners of mineral rights in the state.
Biden’s order creates an Interagency Working Group on Coal and Power Plant Communities and Economic Revitalization and directs federal agencies to coordinate investments and other efforts to assist the economies of coal, oil and natural gas, and power plant communities.
On Tuesday, Bennet sent a letter to Biden’s directors of the U.S. Domestic Policy Council and U.S. National Economic Council, urging that as they develop a long-term economic recovery package, they “include efforts that will enable rural communities that are going through energy transitions to adapt in the short term and thrive in the long term.”