ARKANSAS, Sept 29 (Future Headlines)- The Biden administration’s ambitious plan to reduce offshore oil and gas leasing has ignited a firestorm of criticism from both the fossil fuel industry and environmentalists, exposing the tightrope the White House must walk as it balances energy security and climate change concerns. The core of this controversy lies in the delicate dance between U.S. oil extraction policies and the urgent need to combat climate change. President Biden had campaigned on the promise to halt new federal leasing for oil and gas, but legal challenges have stalled that effort. Additionally, rising fuel prices and their potential impact on his chances of reelection have added pressure to his administration’s energy policies.

The Department of the Interior, on behalf of the Biden administration, recently unveiled a five-year plan for offshore oil drilling. This plan includes just three lease sales, all of which will be held in the Gulf of Mexico. This marks the lowest number of sales in any five-year plan since the government began publishing such plans in 1980. The decision to limit lease sales to the Gulf of Mexico reflects a highly contentious issue, as it is a significant reduction from previous plans, which typically ranged between 11 and 41 sales.

Erik Milito, president of the National Ocean Industries Association, which represents offshore oil and gas developers, voiced strong opposition to the plan. He described it as an “utter failure for the country” that would result in higher gas prices, job losses along the Gulf Coast, and increased U.S. reliance on oil imports. These concerns stem from the fact that the Gulf of Mexico contributes approximately 15% of U.S. crude oil production, according to government data. Furthermore, the time lag between leasing and oil production can range from four to ten years.

The American Petroleum Institute (API), a prominent U.S. oil industry trade group, echoed these sentiments, suggesting that the U.S. was ceding its position as a global energy production leader. API President Mike Sommers argued that the administration’s actions were undermining energy security, a goal pursued for decades.

Environmentalists, on the other hand, criticized the plan from the perspective of climate action. Abigail Dillen, President of Earthjustice, emphasized that the world is already too far along in the climate crisis to commit to decades of new fossil fuel extraction. This perspective aligns with global efforts to mitigate climate change by reducing carbon emissions, particularly in light of the alarming trends in global temperatures.

The Interior Department stated that the decision to approve only three lease sales was in line with the minimum requirement to expand its offshore wind program, which has now been tied to fossil fuel leasing under federal law. The Inflation Reduction Act, a landmark climate change law passed in the previous year, mandates that oil and gas lease sales precede new offshore wind power auctions. President Biden views offshore wind power as a critical component of his plan to achieve a net-zero carbon economy in the U.S. by 2050.

This intricate connection between fossil fuel leasing and offshore wind development highlights the complex web of U.S. energy policy. While the administration seeks to reduce carbon emissions, it must also navigate existing legal requirements and energy security concerns.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a powerful business organization, expressed its dissatisfaction with the decision, labeling it as detrimental to American energy workers. Senator Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, a state heavily reliant on fossil fuel industries, criticized the move, characterizing it as detrimental to American energy workers and detrimental to the interests of Putin and OPEC (Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries) members.

Cassidy’s reference to President Vladimir Putin of Russia underscores the global geopolitical implications of U.S. energy policies. By limiting domestic oil production, the U.S. may become more dependent on foreign oil, potentially enhancing the influence of major oil-producing countries.

The final plan presented by the Department of the Interior represents a significant departure from a 2018 proposal by the Trump administration, which had envisioned 47 lease sales, including ones off the coast of California and the Atlantic. This earlier proposal was later invalidated. The new plan, by contrast, outlines just three sales, scheduled for 2025, 2027, and 2029.

The saga of U.S. drilling policy is marked by its litigious nature. Notably, the Biden administration had originally scheduled a Congressionally mandated Gulf of Mexico oil and gas lease auction for this month. However, a lawsuit related to the federal protection of an endangered whale prompted a U.S. appeals court to postpone the auction until November.

Writing by Moe Khaled; Editing by Sarah White