Gwynne Ann Unruh is an award-winning reporter formerly of the Alamosa Valley Courier, an independent paper in southern Colorado. She covers the environment for The Paper.

It’s a high-stakes game. On one hand, legislators are about to have an all-out battle on how to divide up the extra billion that oil and gas (O&G) just “gifted” to New Mexico. On the other hand, climate, tribal, religious and conservation groups have had enough beating around the bush, and have just told Biden what’s good for the goose is not good for the gander. 

More than 360 groups have petitioned the Biden administration to phase out O&G production on public lands and oceans utilizing his executive authority by 2035. The petition offers a way for Biden to get back on the green trail and shore up his administration’s failure to provide climate leadership. It provides the framework to accomplish this by rulemaking of long-dormant provisions of the Mineral Leasing Act, Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act and the National Emergencies Act.  

Biden’s administration is outpacing the Trump administration’s approval of drilling permits with over 3,091+  permits approved since he took office. Just days after the 2021 COP26 summit in Glasgow, Biden’s administration offered 80 million acres in the Gulf of Mexico for oil and gas leasing, and it plans to offer more than 300,000 acres of public lands leases in March.

The Department of the Interior’s review of the federal O&G programs that caused nearly a quarter of U.S. greenhouse gas pollution disregarded climate change and went instead for changes to royalties, bids and bonding. According to several analyses, if current fossil fuel developments are developed completely, climate change from warming would surpass +1.5 degrees Celsius. 

New Mexico Petitioners Speak Out 

“If the U.S. leads, the world will follow. Biden must keep his promise to end federal oil and gas extraction,” said Taylor McKinnon with the Center for Biological Diversity.

“This petition winds down a cause of the climate crisis: a federal public lands fossil fuels program that serves the interests of oil and gas CEOs and investors, not the public good,” said Erik Schlenker-Goodrich, executive director of the Western Environmental Law Center.

Winona LaDuke, executive director for Honor the Earth said, “It is incumbent upon you, President Biden and Secretary Haaland, to deliver on your promises to forge that safer path, ending fossil production on public lands and waters.”

“We cannot fight climate change while ignoring the fact that nearly a quarter of U.S. climate emissions come from fossil fuel extraction on public lands. It’s time for President Biden to become the climate leader he claims to be,” said Nicole Ghio, senior fossil fuels program manager at Friends of the Earth.

“We can’t confront the climate crisis unless and until we start keeping fossil fuels in the ground; it’s time for the president to acknowledge and take action on this reality,” said Jeremy Nichols, climate and energy program director for WildEarth Guardians.

“Indigenous and undeserved communities disproportionately bear the brunt of these impacts that result from long-standing federal policies that have favored industry over public interest,” said Marc Yaggi, executive director of Waterkeeper Alliance.

“Right now, fossil fuel extraction on public lands and waters makes up a quarter of our greenhouse gas emissions — at a time scientists are saying we must move urgently to cut emissions by at least half,” said Dan Ritzman, director of Sierra Club’s Lands, Water and Wildlife program.