02 February 2021

Biden Executive Order Implements Sweeping Climate Change Policy; Industry Group Challenges Pause on New Oil and Gas Leases

As Sidley previously reported, President Joe Biden issued an executive order (EO) on January 27 stating that “climate considerations shall be an essential element of United States foreign policy and national security.” The EO places environmental justice at the center of the wide-reaching climate plan, which creates a number of new positions and task forces intended to ensure climate change is being addressed by all parts of the federal government.

Environmental activists and many Democrats praised the January 27 EO. Representative Kathy Castor, D-Fla., chair of the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis, declared that “America is poised to benefit from the incredible economic opportunities that will come from rebuilding our infrastructure, investing in clean energy innovation, and unleashing the potential for good-paying union jobs in manufacturing and conservation.” And Mitch Bernard of the Natural Resources Defense Council stated that “every day will be climate day” during the Biden administration.

Republicans and some Democrats, however, took issue with the potential economic impact of the path advanced in the EO. In remarks on the Senate floor, Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., now the ranking member on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, expressed his concern that “President Biden’s actions aren’t just targeting American energy. They’re also going after America’s small businesses.”

The Western Energy Alliance, which represents oil and gas producers in the western United States, responded by filing a petition for review in the U.S. District Court for the District of Wyoming challenging part of the order. The petition challenges the direction in the EO to the Interior Secretary to “pause” approvals of new oil and natural gas leases on public lands or in offshore waters until Interior completes a review of federal oil and gas permitting and leasing practices in light of potential climate effects. The petition claims this “is an unsupported and unnecessary action that is inconsistent with the Secretary’s statutory obligations.”

In a statement accompanying the petition, Kathleen Sgamma, president of the Alliance, called the moratorium on new leases “an overreach meant to satisfy the environmental left, but it would seriously harm the livelihoods of tens of thousands of westerners and put at risk millions more as state services become unfunded.” The American Petroleum Institute (API) raised similar concerns. Mike Sommers, API president and CEO, called the action to halt leasing “a step backwards both for our nation’s economic recovery and environmental progress, threatening to cost thousands of jobs and much-needed revenue while increasing emissions by slowing the transition to cleaner fuels.”

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