The Biden administration released a proposed plan on Friday for where the federal government intends to hold offshore oil and gas lease sales in federal waters for the next five years. The plan would mainly limit drilling to the Gulf of Mexico, with one proposed lease sale in waters off Alaska.
The Interior Department’s five-year offshore leasing plan is required by law. But it comes at a time when the Biden administration is caught between conflicting goals: its own commitments to slash planet-warming emissions from fossil fuels, and intense political pressure over high gas prices.
The plan was also released the day after the Supreme Court ruled federal Clean Air Act does not give the Environmental Protection Agency broad authority to regulate planet-warming emissions from power plants. The opinion was roundly criticized by environmental advocates, scientists and the Biden administration for handcuffing the EPA just as more action is needed on the climate crisis.
But the Biden administration isn’t ruling out new offshore drilling in the next half decade. Instead, Interior is proposing a range of options; from no new drilling to 10 lease sales in the Gulf of Mexico – where the vast majority of offshore drilling already occurs – as well as one proposed sale in Alaska’s Cook Inlet. However, Interior recently canceled an approved Cook Inlet sale due to lack of interest from the oil and gas industry.
The plan would also remove public waters in the Atlantic and Pacific coasts from drilling, which was a widely anticipated move.
In a statement accompanying the proposed plan, Interior Sec. Deb Haaland stressed the Biden administration’s focus on spurring renewable energy.
“From Day One, President Biden and I have made clear our commitment to transition to a clean energy economy,” Haaland said in a statement. “Today, we put forward an opportunity for the American people to consider and provide input on the future of offshore oil and gas leasing. The time for the public to weigh in on our future is now.”
The plan will be finalized after a 90-day public comment period, though that process could take much longer.
The White House has been involved in crafting Interior’s offshore drilling plan, two sources familiar with the discussions told CNN, a sign of how sensitive the White House is right now to the politics around oil and gas decisions. Republicans and Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin have criticized Interior’s handling of oil and gas leases – saying they should be increasing domestic production.