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Sparks

Biden: Look at These Pretty Wind Turbines (Also, We’re Expanding Oil Drilling)

No one is pleased.

President Biden.
Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

An announcement Friday by the Biden administration to extend the nation’s offshore oil leasing program perfectly encapsulates the Catch-22 the president finds himself in over his climate goals. The press release brazenly advertises the drilling expansion plan as “Reflecting America’s Rapid and Accelerating Shift to Clean Energy,” all while reading like someone trying to convince you that they’ve got a gun to their head.

This plan was a long time coming. The Interior Department is responsible for establishing a five-year leasing schedule under the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act that will “best” meet the United States' energy needs, and the previous plan is about to expire. Lease sale 261, which was supposed to be held on Wednesday but has been delayed until later this fall, is the last one on the agenda.

The agency could, in theory, issue a schedule with zero lease sales over the next five years. But due to provisions added into the Inflation Reduction Act by West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin, such inaction would prevent the government from being able to open up more of the nation’s coast to offshore wind development. Before the Interior Department can put up any offshore acreage for wind, it has to have put up at least 60 million acres for oil in the previous year, the law says.

So instead of calling it an offshore oil lease plan, the agency is describing it as an offshore wind-enablement plan. The IRA’s handcuffs were referenced roughly four times in the press release, including in the first sentence, which reads, “Consistent with the requirements of the Inflation Reduction Act …” The plan to hold three oil and gas sales in 2025, 2027, and 2029 is the “minimum number” the department could schedule in order to continue the expansion of offshore wind, it said, and “the fewest … in history.” The subheading of the page even calls it a plan that “phases down oil and gas leasing in the Gulf of Mexico,” and the image paired with the announcement on social media featured wind turbines.

There’s nothing factually wrong about any of this. The final plan calls for significantly fewer sales than the 47 initially proposed in 2018 by the Trump administration, and a marked reduction from the 11 proposed by Biden last summer. The plan also restricts drilling to areas in the Gulf of Mexico that are already under development, rather than opening up new areas in Alaska or the Atlantic, as Trump wanted to do. But it does put the U.S. on a path to increased oil production, and at least one analysis asserts that the administration doesn’t even need to hold any more wind lease sales to achieve Biden’s clean energy goals.

It’s unclear who the apologetic tone or desperate image of wind turbines was for. By all accounts, the announcement was a letdown to all sides.

Emily Pontecorvo profile image

Emily Pontecorvo

Emily is a founding staff writer at Heatmap. Previously she was a staff writer at the nonprofit climate journalism outlet Grist, where she covered all aspects of decarbonization, from clean energy to electrified buildings to carbon dioxide removal.

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