Interior Department Temporarily Bans Drilling on Public Lands

Image: Pixaby

by Amy Lupica, ODP Staff Writer

Two days into the Biden administration, the Interior Department has announced a federal block on oil and gas drilling on public lands. Pending the Senate confirmation of nominee Deb Haaland, acting Interior Secretary Scott de la Vega signed an order barring any new leasing, drilling, or mining on public lands for the next 60 days. Advocates hope that this order is only the first step in fulfilling a Biden campaign promise to ban all oil and gas drilling on public lands.

Why This Matters: During his term, former President Trump rolled back protections for public lands across the country including two National Monuments in Utah, the Tongass National Forest in Alaska, and the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. He attempted, and in some cases failed, to lease these public lands out to drilling, mining, logging, and other development. 

His assault on these public lands threatened wildlife, crucial ecosystems, and Indigenous sovereignty. The Biden Administration prioritizing public lands in the first days of his presidency gives the public hope that the administration will follow through on not only its promise to fight climate change but also to work with and lift up Indigenous communities.

What’s Next?

Advocacy groups are optimistic. “For four years, the Trump administration cut legal corners and rushed through massive drilling and mining projects at the behest of corporations. Now the Biden administration is rightfully attempting to take stock of the damage and make sure the agency is following the law, instead of rubber-stamping destructive projects that were in the pipeline,” said Jesse Prentice-Dunn, policy director at the Center for Western Priorities. Once confirmed as Secretary, Haaland will have more power to further protections of public lands and solidify the Interior Department’s long-term plan.

  • Part of that plan may include restoring tribal lands to Indigenous groups and reversing Trump administration rollbacks of Obama era policies.
  • The Biden-Harris official plan for Tribal Nations aims to streamline the process of putting public lands into trust on behalf of tribes.

The Resistance: The fossil fuel industry is less than happy about the temporary ban and sees it as a move against American energy independence. Mike Sommers, President and CEO of The American Petroleum Institute (API) said in a statement, “Restricting development on federal lands and waters is nothing more than an ‘import more oil’ policy. Energy demand will continue to rise — especially as the economy recovers — and we can choose to produce that energy here in the United States or rely on foreign countries hostile to American interests.” He asserted that banning drilling on public lands would “only serve to hurt local communities,” but the Biden administration has a plan to fight that. 

In addition to creating millions of clean energy jobs, the Biden administration has promised to lift up Indigenous communities by creating more than 250,000 local jobs to plug oil and gas wells reclaim abandoned coal, hard rock, and uranium mines.

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