Activists urge Biden to do something ahead of biggest offshore oil lease sale in US history

Washington DC - Wednesday is the big date for fossil fuel companies looking to get a piece of federal waters in the Gulf of Mexico for oil and gas drilling operations, after a court order forced the Biden Administration to drop its ban on lease sales in September.

In 2010 in the Gulf of Mexico, offshore oil rig Deepwater Horizon exploded, one of many oil disasters in US waters.
In 2010 in the Gulf of Mexico, offshore oil rig Deepwater Horizon exploded, one of many oil disasters in US waters.  © IMAGO / ZUMA Wire

President Joe Biden had banned new lease sales for fossil fuel projects when he started his first term, but now the biggest offshore lease sale for fossil fuel projects in US history will go ahead as planned.

Activists from Friends of the Earth and "267 Indigenous, frontline, environmental, business, political, and social justice organizations" sent a letter to the Biden Administration, begging the President to cancel the lease sale.

The groups criticized President Biden for not doing everything in his power to fight climate change, especially after attending the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow, where he said climate change is an existential threat.

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"Selling more than 80 million acres in the Gulf of Mexico for oil and gas development just days after the international climate talks makes a mockery of those commitments," the letter said.

This issue is seen by many activists as the hill to die on, because if the president doesn't use his executive powers to stop the lease sale, "the 80 million acres on sale [are] expected to produce around 48 billion barrels of oil and 141 trillion cubic feet of natural gas over the next 50 years."

If that unimaginably large amount of oil and gas is burned, it will emit 97 billion tons of CO2, nearly twice as much as the grand total of CO2 added by all human activity around the world in just one year.

Executive order on the table?

Biden has already signed a passel of Executive Orders, including this one on November 15 to help Native Americans' safety.
Biden has already signed a passel of Executive Orders, including this one on November 15 to help Native Americans' safety.  © IMAGO / MediaPunch

In the Friends of the Earth letter, the signing groups say that President Biden has the scientific evidence and the executive power to cancel the lease sale and walk the talk of the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow.

And the voices urging the president to use his power to take climate action are right, an executive order could cancel the lease sale, and with no limits on the number of executive orders permitted, activists are wondering why Biden hasn't stopped the largest offshore lease sale in US history.

On the other hand, the court order that the Biden administration complied with in September is a solid example of the hurdles executive orders have to get past.

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Both Department of Justice and Congress can, in theory, easily block executive orders by declaring them unconstitutional, or even by taking away the president's authority to issue an executive order on certain policies. Uncooperative state officials or animosity from lobbyists and voters are also possible stumbling blocks.

But that's not reason enough to stand idly by, say activist and environmentalist groups, who are urging President Biden to at least buy time for an ongoing lawsuit appealing the court decision that lifted his original ban, even if the executive order he uses to buy time gets overturned.

As the deadline looms, though, there's no sign of that happening.

Cover photo: IMAGO / ZUMA Wire

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