Over the last 20 years, the U.S. oil and gas industry has expanded production astronomically, becoming the world’s largest producer of the fuels driving climate change.
The election of Joe Biden presents an opportunity to change this dangerous trajectory.
After four lost years in the wilderness, ignoring and undermining climate science, the United States will have an administration more committed to addressing climate change than any before. But for the United States to fully realize such a vision, much needs to be done to address the outsized role that this country plays regarding the extraction of fossil fuels.
Action is required across our government agencies that help the U.S. economy tick and our general society function. The government-facilitated leasing of shared public lands and waters for oil and gas development must be phased out. The financial institutions that invest in and insure fossil fuel infrastructure (like pipelines, plastics manufacturing facilities, and power plants) need to recognize their profound role in enabling climate change. And those tasked with protecting human health and well-being must confront the pollution associated with extraction that devastates communities and wildlands.
The task of responsibly and equitably transitioning the U.S. economy off fossil fuels is complex. It is also achievable. By beginning this hard work in the areas most directly controlled by the federal government, the Biden-Harris administration can lay the groundwork for the economy-wide shift that must take place, in this country and globally, by mid-century. NRDC believes that rapid implementation of policies in three overarching areas present a starting point for rapid action:
- Adopt measures that will curb pollution from existing oil and gas production and transportation and safeguard the communities most affected by it. These include:
- Addressing air emissions and surface and groundwater pollution caused by fracking and other production processes. Specific actions include reversing Trump administration policies that weakened states’ and tribes’ authority to stop or place protective conditions on federally permitted projects, reinstating the moratorium on federal coal leases to allow for evaluation of the program, and ending the fast-track permits from the Army Corps of Engineers that let pipeline and other destructive projects harm wetlands and countless miles of streams.
- Mandating that methane leaks from oil and gas wells, pipelines, and other facilities be located and stopped. Methane emissions from leaking infrastructure are causing a national and global spike in this potent greenhouse gas.
- End federal subsidies for oil, gas, and coal industries, and restructure agricultural subsidies so that soil health and climate resilience is prioritized over dependency on fossil fuel-based pesticides and fertilizers.
- Reform reviews at the federal agencies charged with overseeing gas infrastructure development to ensure that these projects’ full lifecycle emissions and climate impacts are properly calculated and considered.
- Manage climate risk to and in the financial sector, both at the company and the systemic levels. Specifically, nominate a Secretary of the Treasury, Governors for the Federal Reserve, Commissioners of the SEC, and CFTC, and other financial leaders that will ensure climate risk is included in their regulations and oversight activities; and encourage the Financial Stability Oversight Council to use its authorities to manage the overall risk climate change poses to the entire financial system.
- Lay the groundwork to phase out leasing of federal lands and waters for oil and gas production. This will include:
- Placing an immediate moratorium on leasing of federal lands and waters and directing relevant agencies to review leasing practices, the status of currently leased lands, and the need for further leasing of these areas in the future.
- Adopting climate and mitigation protocols to ensure that any relevant action taken by the federal government is consistent with limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.
- Restoring protections to critical and important landscapes that were lifted by the Trump administration including Bears Ears and other national monuments. Where appropriate, such restoration should coincide with additional community safeguards, transparency and public participation requirements, and the adoption of tribal co-governance models, given that many of these landscapes continue to play critical roles in the preservation of indigenous culture and practices.
- Immediately halt unnecessary projects and plans whose purpose is to drive expanded fossil fuel production and use in North America and globally. These include, but are not limited to:
- Rescinding the Presidential Permit for the construction of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline connecting Canada’s tar sands to Gulf Coast refineries and export facilities.
- Ending any activity associated with leasing, exploring, or developing fossil fuels within areas that are acutely sensitive such as Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and New Mexico’s Chaco Culture National Historical Park.
- Rescind and decline to issue any new federal permits and authorizations for environmentally destructive projects that have failed to show a demonstrated market need, such as the Mountain Valley Pipeline and its Southgate extension and the Line 3 tar sands pipeline.
- Withdraw all the unleased areas on the Outer Continental Shelf from leasing and drilling.
And above all, we need to ensure that our workforce and communities are not left behind in this transition away from fossil fuels. Protection of vulnerable customers and ensuring a fair transition for workers and communities who depend on the current system must be paramount concerns for the new administration.
Undertaking these actions will provide a roadmap for the steps that will help initiate the necessary shift toward climate-safe policy making, protect workers and vulnerable populations, and place our economy on a healthier trajectory. Climate science tells us there is no time left to waste. We look forward to working with the Biden-Harris administration and policymakers who understand that urgency—and will act swiftly to protect our future.