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Historic Land Lease Decision

The extraction of fossil fuels has powered the modern world, and for most of our country's history, the federal government has been on board. Now, that appears to be changing. One of the key ways in which the federal government supports fossil fuel industries, other than subsidies to the tune of billions of dollars, is leasing federal land on which the oil and gas industry can drill. Part of President Biden's campaign was a promise to end drilling on public lands. While the Biden administration proved throughout its first year to be mostly talk and little follow through when it comes to this promise (his administration actually approved more drilling permits on public lands in its first year than the Trump administration), a recent decision by Judge Rudolph Contreras shows that mindlessly expanding the fossil fuel industry will no longer go unnoticed.

To be fair, the Biden administration wasn't excited about approving the largest land lease auction to oil and gas interests in history. But when multiple states came forward with a lawsuit, the sale went forward late last year: 80 million acres up for grabs (of which only 1.7 million acres were actually sold). That is, until Judge Rudolph Contreras of District of Columbia ruled the sales invalid, claiming that the decision was based on a flawed report that was five years old, and didn't take into account the UN's position that climate change is an immediate and vital problem.

As of 2020, over 26 million acres of federal lands were leased for oil and gas drilling. The viability of such leases will be increasingly called into question moving forward, because massive fossil fuel companies like Shell, BP, Chevron, and Exxon (who all participated in the now invalid sale) will no longer be able to pretend that their actions are sustainable. The science that proves that climate change exists and is happening right now is no longer a real matter of debate, and future bids to use federal land for fossil fuel extraction will have to prove that their activities won't pose a damaging risk to the environment. Claiming that fossil fuel extraction won't exacerbate dangerous climate change will be a difficult case to make, considering that our dependence on fossil fuel is what got us here in the first place. While the federal government has been kind to fossil fuels for a long time, the climate demands subsidies for renewable energy.


1. You Asked: How Much Does the US Subsidize Renewable Energy?, Columbia Climate School

2. Biden Promised to End New Drilling on Federal Land, but Approvals are Up,NPR

3.Court Revokes Gulf of Mexico Oil and Gas Leases, Citing Climate Change, New York Times

4. Biden Outpaces Trump in Issuing Drilling Permits on Public Lands, Washington Post

5. Fourteen U.S. States Sue Biden Administration over Oil and Gas Leasing Pause,Reuters

6. District Judge Rudolph Contreras, United States District Court, District of Columbia

7. Court Revokes Massive Oil and Gas Lease Sale in Gulf of Mexico,Earth Justice

8. Global Issues: Climate Change,United Nations

9. Oil and Gas Statistics, Bureau of Land Management

10. Evidence | Facts – Climate Change: Vital Signs of the Planet,NASA


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