Biden to suspend federal drilling, strengthen environmental justice in new climate orders

Valerie Volcovici and Jeff Mason
·2 min read

By Valerie Volcovici and Jeff Mason

WASHINGTON, Jan 27 (Reuters) - The Biden administration will announce on Wednesday a new batch of executive actions aimed at combating climate change that will pause new oil and gas leases on federal land and strengthen measures to protect poor and minority neighborhoods from pollution, according to sources familiar with the matter.

The orders will set the direction for newly sworn-in President Joe Biden's climate change and environmental agenda and mark a drastic reversal from his predecessor Donald Trump, who sought to maximize the country’s oil, gas and coal output by removing regulations and easing environmental reviews.

In the orders, Biden will call for a pause on new federal oil and gas leases and direct the Interior Department to review the program's climate impacts and taxpayer benefits. He will also set a goal to conserve 30% of federal land and waters to protect wildlife, the sources said.

The orders will impact large swathes of acreage onshore in mostly Western states, as well as offshore drilling acreage located mainly in the U.S. Gulf of Mexico.

Word of the measure has drawn criticism from some states that depend on drilling revenue and the oil industry, which has warned the move will costs jobs and economic growth.

Biden will also assemble a national climate change task force, to be led by White House domestic climate policy advisor Gina McCarthy. It will enlist federal agencies to devise climate change strategies.

He will also form an interagency council aimed at addressing environmental justice, placing an official to oversee the issue within each federal agency, and direct 40% of benefits from clean energy investments to low-income and minority communities, the sources said.

Biden is also expected to create a special environmental justice enforcement unit at the Justice Department, they said.

The orders aim to make good on several of Biden's campaign promises to tackle climate change while also addressing racial and economic inequality. (Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)