“The United States will lead by example,” Joe Biden told the world at the COP26 climate conference in Glasgow last week. That was then. This is now. In a move that proves beyond a reasonable doubt that the US government is a slave to fossil fuel interests, the Biden administration this week announced it will lease 80 million acres to oil and gas companies so they can drill to their hearts’ content in the Gulf of Mexico for the next 20 years or so. It is the largest sale of oil and gas leasing rights in the Gulf in US history.
Reaction has been swift. The Guardian says, “The enormous size of the lease sale — covering an area that is twice as large as Florida — is a blunt repudiation of Biden’s previous promise to shut down new drilling on public lands and waters. It has stunned environmentalists who argue the auction punctures the US’s shaky credibility on the climate crisis and will make it harder to avert catastrophic impacts from soaring global heating.”
How alarming is this move by the government? It is like tossing sticks of dynamite into a burning building while firefighters are inside trying to extinguish the blaze. It is a total rejection of everything the people who put Biden in the White House — people like the Sunrise Movement and advocates for the Green New Deal — stand for. It is a stab in the back to everyone pushing for meaningful emissions reductions.
But it’s worse than that. It’s a signal to Germany and China to keep using coal to keep the lights on in their countries. It is a message to the island nations that America does not care if they sink out of sight. It is a statement to the rest of the world that nothing the United States government says can be believed and that it is not to be trusted.
“Coming in the aftermath of the climate summit, this is just mind boggling. It’s hard to imagine a more hypocritical and dangerous thing for the administration to do,” says Kristen Monsell, senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “It’s incredibly reckless and we think unlawful too. It’s just immensely disappointing.”
While campaigning for president last year, Biden said there will be “no more subsidies for fossil fuel industry. No more drilling on federal lands. No more drilling, including offshore. No ability for the oil industry to continue to drill, period, ends, number one.” And yet, since taking office, his administration has approved more oil and gas leases on public lands than any administration in history. The new leases are projected to sell for about $2.50 an acre. How is that not a subsidy for fossil fuels, something Biden swore he would not do? Not that other countries are doing all that much better.
Why the turnaround? Several oil and gas companies sued the administration, claiming it had not followed proper procedures when it decided to put a pause on new leases. The administration says its all the fault of a federal judge in Louisiana who ruled in favor of those companies. A spokesperson for the Department of the Interior tells The Guardian it is “complying” with the court ruling while also appealing it and devising a better system to measure the emissions impact of oil and gas lease sales.
Jen Psaki, Biden’s press secretary, said on Monday: “It’s a legal case and legal process, but it’s important for advocates and other people out there who are following this to understand that it’s not aligned with our view, the president’s policies, or the executive order that he signed.”
That’s simply naive doublespeak, according to Max Sarinsky, a senior attorney at the New York University School of Law. He says, “The Louisiana opinion doesn’t force the administration to move forward with any particular lease sale — the Department of Interior still has discretion over that. If they were to postpone, I’m almost certain they would be sued by oil and gas interests, but that’s another matter.”
There’s another factor at work here. Gasoline prices are rising. Oh, the horror! Americans believe they have a constitutional right to cheap gasoline. It’s buried in there with the language that says a white citizen has the right to carry a bazooka on shopping trips. And if it’s not there, it certainly was carved on the stone tablets Moses brought down from the mountain or featured prominently in the Code of Hammurabi.
Or as one fellow who was overcome with patriotic fervor said when the US military invaded the Middle East a few years back, “This is America, goddamit. It’s our oil and we should go get it!” Love of country is a beautiful thing, isn’t it? The upshot is that high gasoline prices could sink the Democrats in the next election, and so whatever it takes to appease the fossil fuel crazies will be done.
The Locals Are Not Impressed
Many of those who actually live along the shores of the Gulf of Mexico are not impressed. The huge expansion in oil drilling, reaching down through up to two miles of ocean into the seabed, raises concerns over a repeat of the numerous oil spills that have caused varying degrees of devastation to coastal communities and wildlife.
“That’s a fear we live with,” says Anne Rolfes, director of the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, an environmental group based in New Orleans. “There are spills every year and nothing is done to stop it – all the technology goes into how to drill further out, not to clean up spills or pipeline repair. The industry is like a cancer, it’s just relentless growth. It’s disappointing Biden won’t take a firmer stance.”
If you are one of those who feels betrayed by Joe Biden, you’re not alone. Leading climate scientists have warned us that we must stop drilling for oil and gas immediately — right now, today — if the world is to avoid a full fledged climate catastrophe. Cockroaches, rats, and sharks may be able to adapt to a warmer planet but the changes are happening too rapidly for humans to adapt, despite the blandishments of fools like Rex Tillerson.
We are headed over a cliff and lots of people are cheering. Some religious fanatics are actually hoping the world ends during their lifetime so they can personally experience The Rapture. It doesn’t get much more self-centered and egotistical than that, does it? Those people actually hope you die so they can exult at your funeral. How nice. Oddly enough, they call themselves Christians.
The signs are everywhere that humanity is going to get this existential challenge wrong and yet few people are worried. Just as long as they can fill up their gargantuan SUVs and Stupid Duty pickup trucks for under fifty bucks, they’re happy.
Maybe caring about our fellow passengers here on Spaceship Earth was never in vogue. It certainly isn’t now.