Today, January 27th 2021, the Biden administration announced executive actions to address the climate crisis. President Biden directed the Secretary of the Interior “to pause on entering into new oil and gas leases on public lands and waters.” Opening up public lands to extractive industries was a staple of President Trump’s agenda and helped forge a friendly relationship with the industry. Oil and gas operations have harmful effects on watersheds and wildlife that so many Americans seek on public lands. The current administration’s pause of new leases represents a clear recognition of the contribution the oil and gas industry has on climate change.

The administration’s move is not without controversy. For one, the directive has no authority over existing oil and gas leases, which total 36 million acres, or over private and state owned lands, where the vast majority of oil and gas development occurs. In addition, legal challenges by the fossil fuel industry have already started. Kathleen Sgamma, president of the Western Energy Alliance, which represents oil and gas drillers in Western states, said the executive order is intended to delay drilling on federal lands to the point where it is no longer viable, reported the Associated Press. However, Bloomberg’s Jennifer A Dlouhy suggests that this order will usher “a broad review of whether–and how–fossil fuels should be extracted from lands under the U.S. government’s control.”

While the order will face challenges and its intent is undermined by the Trump Administration fast tracking leases on public lands, it is a clear signal that the U.S. Government is serious about dealing with climate change. Additionally, Biden’s executive order will put public land conservation, recreation, and fish and wildlife interests on better footing–especially, compared to the way the previous administration interacted with industry. “Unlike previous administrations, I don’t think the federal government should give handouts to Big Oil,” said Biden during the order’s televised signing. In addition, the directive may influence future business decisions and state governments. BlackRock, for example, an investment firm managing over $9 trillion, recently lobbied business leaders to devise plans to get their businesses to net-zero carbon emissions.

Climate change is already having profound impacts on our fisheries and ecosystems. Fish stocks are shifting, water temperatures are rising, habitats are degrading, and that is just what scientists currently know. Immediate steps, notably keeping rising temperatures below a 1.5 degree Celsius change over the next decade, must be taken to avoid catastrophic alterations to the planet ecosystems.

Combatting climate change will require big ideas and actions by individuals and governments alike. For example, “conserving at least 30 percent of our lands and oceans by 2030,” another provision of Biden’s executive order will preserve habitat but double as a natural carbon sink. Protecting and minimizing carbon emissions that stem from public lands is a key a step towards addressing climate change. Public lands are to be enjoyed by all Americans. Auctioning off millions of acres for less than two dollars per acre was not a fair bargain.

Biden’s full executive order can be found HERE.

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