Today is Earth Day, which the Biden administration marked with a hollow declaration that “For our children and grandchildren, we must stand united in our effort to save our only home.” But just over the course of the last year the administration has taken several major steps that brought us even deeper into the climate crisis.
One of the main tools the federal government has to implement climate policy is the permitting process for new fossil fuel ventures. Many executive branch agencies play a role in this process, and have the power to withhold approval for new drilling, pipelines, etc.
One such agency is the Bureau of Land Management, which is responsible for the vast tracts of land owned by the federal government. When a fossil fuel company wants to carry out activities on federal land, it needs to seek a permit from the BLM. From the beginning of Biden’s presidency until early this year, the BLM approved 6,430 permits for gas or oil drilling. This is even more than the 6,172 permits issued in the same period of time during the Trump administration.
The rate at which these permit applications are approved is astounding. For example, between October 2021 and October 2022, fossil fuel corporations were approved in nearly 90% of the cases they requested permission to drill. It is absurd to talk about a transition to clean energy while planet-killing oil and gas executives are given free reign to expand production.
When it comes to offshore drilling, the Biden administration is no better. Even as he moved to secure passage last August of the environmental measures included in the Inflation Reduction Act, Biden made massive concessions that took us in the wrong direction. One of the most glaring is Lease Sale 257, which opens up 80.8 million acres of the Gulf of Mexico to drilling. This sale, the largest ever in the United States, had been halted by a federal judge on the basis that it did not conform with the National Environmental Policy Act. The administration accepted the inclusion of a provision in the IRA that would force the Department of the Interior to go ahead with the sale anyway.
Another enormous giveaway to big oil courtesy of the Biden administration is ConocoPhillips’ Willow Project in Alaska. This huge drilling venture was approved by the Biden administration in March, and is expected to produce around 600 million barrels of oil over the course of its operations.
The construction of pipelines has been a key flashpoint in the struggle to stop climate change. Residents of areas the pipelines travel through have united with environmental activists nationwide to wage fierce struggles against this key form of fossil fuel infrastructure. In spite of this type of opposition, the Biden administration has moved to approve the Mountain Valley Pipeline. Just last week, the U.S. Forest Service gave the green light for construction to go forward in the Jefferson National Forest. And last month, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service also signed off on the pipeline. Both of these agencies fall under the president’s authority as head of the executive branch.
Defenders of the Biden administration excuse these destructive actions on the basis that they are part of a clever political strategy — Biden has to give these concessions, they argue, so that he is able to implement environmentally-friendly policies in other areas. But this approach has no hope of succeeding in time to prevent climate change from devastating the globe. There is no alternative to breaking the power of the fossil fuel capitalists and fundamentally reorganizing the way society produces and uses energy.