Biden Weakly Reverses Course on Oil and Gas Leases on Federal Land

The Department of Interior announced Friday the very limited resumption of issuing onshore oil and gas leases on federal lands, and companies will pay a higher price for the rights.

The clamor for the Biden administration to do something — anything — meaningful about energy prices finally produced a result. But like most everything coming from the White House in the last year, it is half-hearted, misguided, and dishonest in its reasoning.

The administration announced the mini-reversal on Good Friday, in the afternoon, while the president was at Camp David. That’s never a good sign.

First of all, the federal government is only making 20% of the original acreage proposed for drilling available. This decision was reached after what it calls a “robust environmental review.” So 80% of what might have been explored is off the table. It’s even 30% below what officials proposed for sale in November, before the Biden administration paused deciding on new leases.

Secondly, the move disincentivizes the very thing it purports to encourage by raising the royalty rate for new leases by 50%. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland declares it to be a course correction for programs that “prioritized the wants of extractive industries.” In other words, the government previously considered energy companies to be partners in economic security. But no more.

Also, the move does absolutely nothing to alleviate near-record high pump prices now.

Predictably, the left exploded against even this insignificant posturing. Natasha Leger of Citizens for a Healthy Community says more lease sales will lead to more climate disasters and keeps “us on a collision course to uninhabitability.” Varshini Prakash of the Sunrise Movement derides the administration’s policy change as a reason “young people are doubting the political process altogether.”

But as Rep. Rick Crawford (R-AR) notes, the end effect is negligible and only for “political purposes,” and the surface-level reversal is “not a serious proposal.”

How many times in the last two months have politicians railed about “energy security” and “dependence on foreign oil?” So now, instead of a meaningful change such as restarting Keystone XL, a serious national wound is relegated once again to mere band-aid treatment.