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The Climate 202

U.S. to hold historic oil and gas lease sale days after COP26

The Climate 202

Good morning and happy hump day! Please tell your friends, colleagues and casual acquaintances to sign up for The Climate 202 here. But first:

The Biden administration is holding a historic oil and gas lease sale today

The Biden administration today will offer leases to oil and gas companies on more than 80 million acres in the Gulf of Mexico — an area larger than New Mexico — days after a United Nations climate summit that aimed to phase out fossil fuel production worldwide.

  • Lease Sale 257, which was originally planned by the Trump administration, will be the largest offshore oil and gas lease sale in U.S. history.
  • According to the government's own analysis, the sale could generate up to 1.1 billion barrels of oil and 4.42 trillion cubic feet of natural gas in the coming decades.

Critics noted that the sale comes just four days after the United States sought to reclaim a leadership role at COP26, the climate conference in Glasgow, Scotland.

“This administration went to Scotland and told the world that America’s climate leadership is back, and now it’s about to hand over 80 million acres of public waters in the Gulf of Mexico to fossil fuel companies,” House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) said in a statement.

The sale also comes just two days after President Biden proposed a 20-year ban on oil and gas drilling around Chaco Canyon, a sacred tribal site in New Mexico, my colleagues Joshua Partlow and Darryl Fears reported.

“As predicted, this is a carbon bomb in the Gulf — leasing off another 1.7 million offshore acres dwarfs the size of any newly-protected acres that the Biden administration is looking toward in places like Chaco Canyon,” Aaron Weiss, deputy director of the advocacy group Center for Western Priorities, told The Climate 202.

An analysis by the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank, found that the lease sale has the potential to emit 723 million metric tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere over its lifetime — equivalent to operating more than 70 percent of the country's coal plants for a year. 

“It's out of step with what was presented at COP, and it's locking in 10 years worth of leases and potentially up to 50 years worth of oil and gas development,” Jenny Rowland-Shea, a co-author of the analysis and deputy director of public lands at the center, told The Climate 202.

Courtroom clashes

The Biden administration insists that its hands are tied by a court decision that found the Interior Department was legally required to hold lease sales.

  • During his first week in office, Biden signed an executive order instructing the Interior to pause all new lease sales on public lands and waters while it reviewed how to adjust the program.
  • But in June, a federal judge in Louisiana issued a preliminary injunction to block the pause. U.S. District Judge Terry A. Doughty, a Trump appointee, found the Interior could not stop leasing without congressional approval.

At a Monday briefing, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the administration was "required to comply with the injunction," even as the Justice Department asks an appeals court to overturn the judge's order. 

"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," Psaki said.

In an emailed statement, Interior spokeswoman Melissa Schwartz reiterated that the department “is complying with a U.S. District Court's decision." Schwartz also provided the administration's opening brief in its appeal of the decision.

But Drew Caputo, a lawyer at Earthjustice, which filed an August lawsuit to block the issuance of leases from the sale, told The Climate 202 that the Biden administration did have some legal options to delay or halt the sale.

For instance, the Justice Department could have sought a stay of the Louisiana judge's order from the appeals court. "They have never to this day sought a stay of that order, even though that order is wrong and they agree it's wrong," Caputo said.

Industry support

While climate activists slammed the Biden administration for holding the lease sale, the oil and gas industry applauded the move as a boon for both the economy and the environment.

Erik Milito, president of the National Ocean Industries Association, whose members include offshore drilling companies, told The Climate 202 that continued lease sales will help support more than 340,000 jobs in the area as it recovers from Hurricane Ida. 

Milito also cited an analysis from the research firm Wood Mackenzie which found that deepwater oil, which accounts for 92 percent of all Gulf of Mexico production, has the lowest emissions of all oil-producing regions.

"The world is using 100 million barrels a day, and if we're looking to take away the 2 million barrels that we get from the Gulf of Mexico, then another region of the world will make that substitution," he said. "And those other regions generally are not going to operate with the environmental standards that we have."

According to pre-sale statistics released Tuesday by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, 307 tracts received bids from 29 companies.

The lease sale will be live-streamed from New Orleans from 10 a.m. to noon EST today.

On the Hill

Biden will submit a treaty amendment aimed at super-pollutants

The president will ask the Senate today to consider the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol, which requires countries to phase down hydrofluorocarbons — synthetic chemicals used in refrigeration and air conditioning — by 85 percent over the next 15 years, The Washington Post’s Dino Grandoni reports. The chemicals, known as HFCs, are hundreds to thousands of times as potent as carbon dioxide at warming the planet.

The Kigali Amendment has already been approved by China and members of the European Union. But the United States did not ratify the deal under the Trump administration, which instead rolled back Obama-era policies aimed at curbing the powerful chemicals. The amendment, like all treaties, will need to win the approval of a two-thirds supermajority of the Senate to become law. 

In September, the Environmental Protection Agency finalized a rule aimed at ensuring the United States would meet its targets under the treaty — a move made possible by a bipartisan agreement in Congress aimed at slashing the use of HFCs.

Senate Republicans blame Biden administration for rising energy prices

Senate Republicans blamed rising energy prices on the president's climate agenda at an Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing yesterday.

“Biden’s war on Made in Montana and Made in America Energy is crushing U.S. energy independence, killing American jobs and sending us head first into a European-style energy crisis with sky-high energy prices," said Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.), adding that energy prices will soar even higher if Democrats pass their $1.75 trillion social spending package.

Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) said in his opening remarks that Americans “will pay dearly for the energy that we are not producing in the United States, because what Joe Biden did in Glasgow was beg OPEC+ to sell more energy and produce more oil for the United States to buy.”

Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.), a crucial vote for the Democrats' economic package, acknowledged that the energy crunch is affecting his constituents in coal-producing West Virginia.

Meanwhile, the Senate last night confirmed Willie L. Phillips Jr., Biden's nominee to a vacant seat on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

Renewable energy advocates are worried about a tax provision in Democrats’ social spending bill

Clean energy advocacy groups are worried about the inclusion of a corporate alternative minimum tax in Democrats’ $1.75 trillion economic package, E&E News's Geof Koss reports

The provision has the support of Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), who has rejected other proposals to raise taxes on corporations and the wealthy. But the advocacy groups worry that the provision could inadvertently prevent companies from taking advantage of depreciation benefits associated with clean energy tax credits, which lower the costs of renewable energy projects such as solar and wind farms.

Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), a senior member of the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee, said he is working to fix the issue. “We don’t have any time to waste in our transition toward clean renewable energy, and this is a real concern,” Blumenauer said in a statement. 

The power grid

Miami planned to ban natural gas hookups. Then a gas company intervened.

Public records requests show that Miami officials backed away from plans to ban natural gas hookups in new buildings in response to complaints from TECO People’s Gas, the Miami Herald's Alex Harris reports.

In February, city officials publicly floated the idea of banning natural gas hookups in new constructions as part of the city’s broader effort to slash greenhouse gas emissions. But representatives from TECO objected strenuously in messages to city officials, and when officials released their climate strategy on Earth Day, the proposal had been cut.

Natural gas bans have become increasingly popular around the country, sparking a fierce lobbying campaign from industry interests. More than a dozen states, including Florida, have now passed laws blocking cities from prohibiting natural gas. 


In delightful environmental news we didn't know we needed, a German gardener is using old gumball machines to revitalize bee habitats, The Post’s Dan Rosenzweig-Ziff reports

Thanks for reading!