By Lucien Bruggeman
The Biden administration auctioned off large swaths of federally owned waters in the Gulf of Mexico on Wednesday, raking in hundreds of millions of dollars from oil and gas companies eager to begin drilling — while stoking the ire of environmental groups.
The auction was held less than two weeks after President Joe Biden pushed countries around the world to make collective sacrifices for the sake of the planet at the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow.
The timing was not lost on environmental groups, who called for a halt to Wednesday’s auction — and are now slamming the Biden administration for allowing it to happen.
“Today I woke up enraged, but not surprised, that Biden would choose to cater to fossil fuel corporations over our futures,” said Varshini Prakash, executive director of the Sunrise Movement, an environment-focused political group. “It speaks volumes that days after COP26 … he is approving major lease sales in the Gulf rather than doing everything in his power to stop extracting more fossil fuels.”
Wednesday’s auction yielded hundreds of bids from more than 30 oil and gas companies — including ExxonMobil, Shell, and Chevron — who collectively dished out nearly $200 million for drilling rights in 1.7 million acres of the oil-rich Gulf.
Fossil fuel extraction of this type contributes to toxic gas emissions that are responsible for climate change — a reality at odds with Biden’s pledge to halve U.S. emissions by 2030.
The situation has put Biden administration officials on the defensive. Earlier this week, Interior Department Deputy Secretary Tommy Beaudreau spoke at a panel discussion sponsored by the University of Chicago and tried to deflect criticism of the auction, describing it as a legal requirement engineered by the Trump administration.
“The fact is, the upcoming oil lease sale … is part of the legacy system that we’re here to reform,” he said Monday.
Beaudreau did not directly address a question about why the administration had not done more to prevent the auction from taking place, but instead sought to cast blame on the Trump administration, which initially scheduled the lease sale.
“The administrative process for that lease sale had been completed during the previous administration,” Beaudreau said. “It is not the way that we would prefer to do business.”