Monumental climate action by President Biden

For places like the Greater Chaco region of northwest New Mexico, where WildEarth Guardians has worked tirelessly with Tribal and Indigenous allies to confront unchecked oil and gas development, today’s action and orders by President Biden means new hope for justice and protection of this sacred landscape. Photo by John Fowler.

Executive action halts new oil and gas leasing on public lands and offshore waters

More work lies ahead, but today’s climate orders mark big steps toward a just transition, protecting public lands, and keeping dirty fossil fuels in the ground

Denver—WildEarth Guardians today celebrated President Biden’s bold actions to confront the climate crisis, safeguard public lands, and ensure the United States justly transitions away from fossil fuels.

“Today’s actions by President Biden are historic and absolutely what’s needed to restore and bolster the United States’ momentum in confronting the climate crisis and achieving a just economic transition,” said Jeremy Nichols, Climate and Energy Program Director for WildEarth Guardians. “We still have our work cut out for us, but no U.S. president has done more to energize climate action and make environmental justice a priority.”

In a series of Executive Orders, President Biden issued sweeping direction to align the United States’ federal government with scientifically-based greenhouse gas reduction targets and clean energy goals.

The Orders set bold conservation objectives, including conserving 30% of U.S. lands and oceans by 2030, establish audacious economic revitalization initiatives, and create new, high level agencies and working groups to direct and lead climate action in America.

Notably, President Biden ordered a ban on the sale of public lands and waters for fracking and directed a review of federal fossil fuel management programs. The action represents a monumental step toward winding down and ultimately phasing out coal and oil and gas production on public lands in the American West.

“President Biden’s actions today are a refreshing and long-overdue acknowledgment of the reality that we can’t frack our way to a safe climate,” said Nichols. “It’s time to get the federal government out of the fossil fuel business and into the business of helping communities transition to become cleaner, healthier, more equitable, and more prosperous than ever.”

Added Nichols, “Most importantly, today’s actions ensure public lands will not continue to be sacrificed to oil and gas companies at the expense of our clean air and water, fish and wildlife, and the health and sustainability of the landscape of the American West.”

Five years ago, WildEarth Guardians helped launch a campaign to halt federal coal and oil and gas leasing on public lands.  While coal leasing has ground to a virtual halt due to plummeting market demand, oil and gas leasing surged under both President Obama and Trump.

Today’s actions by President Biden are the culmination of intense and persistent grassroots organizing, coalition building, and legal pressure brought by WildEarth Guardians and other groups committed to keeping fossil fuels in the ground.

“’Keep it in the Ground’ has been our rallying cry from day one and today, that commonsense approach to climate action is finally being put into action by our federal government,” said Nichols. “With today’s orders, public lands are thankfully being put to work for the climate, not for fossil fuels.”

“We still have our work cut out for us, the fossil fuel industry will certainly fight back under the flags of climate denial and greed,” added Nichols. “But today, President Biden has set the stage for bold reforms that cut through the oil, gas, and coal industry’s denial and deception and make justice a reality.”

For an additional fact sheet provided by the Biden administration, click here.

14 thoughts on “Monumental climate action by President Biden”

  1. Predictable but sad. I remember during my senior year of high school in 2005 when my debate league was debating how to reduce dependence on foreign oil, which was a huge topic at the time. 10 years later America had effectively eliminated dependence on imported oil thanks to the fracking revolution. Now the latest craze is how to destroy the American oil industry as quickly as possible so we can go back to relying on expensive oil imported from Saudi Arabia. Yay progress?

    And regarding the 30×30 thing, can we have a discussion on why WildEarth Guardians and the other big groups pushing that refuse to consider Forest Service roadless areas as ‘protected’? They basically are treated as ‘Wilderness Lite’ at this point. Why is that not good enough? I wonder how close we would already be to the 30×30 goal if roadless areas were actually counted as protected land?

    • See this Patrick?

      Notice this part, Patrick?

      The oil and gas industry has stockpiled millions of acres of leases on public lands and waters.

      • Onshore, of the more than 26 million acres under lease to the oil and gas industry, nearly 13.9 million (or 53%) of those acres are unused and non-producing.

      • Offshore, of the more than 12 million acres of public waters under lease, over 9.3 million (or 77%) of those acres are unused and non-producing.

      • Onshore and offshore, the oil and gas industry is sitting on approximately 7,700 unused, approved permits to drill.

      Also, can you please point out some actual documentation where you believe that WildEarth Guardians “refuse(s) to consider Forest Service roadless areas as ‘protected?'”


      • I’m aware of the claims of stockpiles of leases, which is disingenuous because leases take a long time to actually develop, so of course brand new leases would not be developed right away during a time of low demand. What this does is create a huge bottleneck several years down the road rather than an immediate impact.

        As for Roadless areas, I don’t know that it was from WEG specifically, but I’ve seen a number of lists of the different categories that the 30×30 advocates consider protected and roadless areas are left out of all of those lists. This article for example refers to 30×30 advocates saying roadless areas aren’t good enough because they allow motorized trails:×30-conservation-lands-protection-by-2030/

        In this list,×30-guidelines-for-decision-makers.pdf roadless areas are listed as GAP 3, while most definitions of ‘protected’ for 30×30 only county the GAP 1 and 2 levels.

        So it seems to me that going by the definition commonly used by groups promoting the 30×30 goal, roadless areas don’t count as protected. If I am wrong regarding WEG specifically, perhaps you could provide a succinct list of what WEG’s considers to qualify as ‘protected’ for the 30×30 goal?

        • I should also add that this report likewise states that roadless areas aren’t good enough, and that they need a higher level of protection to qualify as protected:×30-1.pdf

          Also interesting that according to the report linked in my previous comment, if GAP 3 land (which includes roadless areas) were considered protected, Colorado would already exceed 30% of land protected, as 86% of federal land in CO is GAP 3 or higher. When GAP 3 is excluded, they come up with the figure that only 10% of land in CO is protected. So excluding roadless areas makes quite a bit of difference.

          • Patrick, a while back I tried to calculate the different kinds of protection and also came up with Colorado is over 30%. I think I lost my calculations, though. If you would like to do them and submit a guest post, I would encourage you. I was just on a Society for Environmental Journalists call, and they seemed to think the starting point for the discussions is likely to be the IUCN definitions..

            a Strict Nature Reserve: Category Ia are strictly protected areas set aside to protect biodiversity and also possibly geological/geomorphical features, where human visitation, use and impacts are strictly controlled and limited to ensure protection of the conservation values. Such protected areas can serve as indispensable reference areas for scientific research and monitoring more…

            Ib Wilderness Area: Category Ib protected areas are usually large unmodified or slightly modified areas, retaining their natural character and influence without permanent or significant human habitation, which are protected and managed so as to preserve their natural condition. more…

            II National Park: Category II protected areas are large natural or near natural areas set aside to protect large-scale ecological processes, along with the complement of species and ecosystems characteristic of the area, which also provide a foundation for environmentally and culturally compatible, spiritual, scientific, educational, recreational, and visitor opportunities. more…

            III Natural Monument or Feature: Category III protected areas are set aside to protect a specific natural monument, which can be a landform, sea mount, submarine cavern, geological feature such as a cave or even a living feature such as an ancient grove. They are generally quite small protected areas and often have high visitor value. more…

            IV Habitat/Species Management Area: Category IV protected areas aim to protect particular species or habitats and management reflects this priority. Many Category IV protected areas will need regular, active interventions to address the requirements of particular species or to maintain habitats, but this is not a requirement of the category. more…

            V Protected Landscape/ Seascape: A protected area where the interaction of people and nature over time has produced an area of distinct character with significant, ecological, biological, cultural and scenic value: and where safeguarding the integrity of this interaction is vital to protecting and sustaining the area and its associated nature conservation and other values.more…

            VI Protected area with sustainable use of natural resources: Category VI protected areas conserve ecosystems and habitats together with associated cultural values and traditional natural resource management systems. They are generally large, with most of the area in a natural condition, where a proportion is under sustainable natural resource management and where low-level non-industrial use of natural resources compatible with nature conservation is seen as one of the main aims of the area more…

            The EO doesn’t necessarily say that it’s 30% by state either.
            If the purpose is biodiversity, there’s substantial conflicting literature on where best to do it, which may add another twist.

            • I would have to do a lot more research on this before I would be comfortable writing a guest post on it. It’s not something I’ve read about extensively. I just remember being surprised when I first read the Conservation Colorado report that they were excluding roadless areas. It sure makes it look like the definition of ‘protected’ is artificially narrow for political reasons in order to avoid acknowledging that many states already meet the 30×30 goal.

              And while Biden’s executive order doesn’t say it has to be state by state, it appears likely to be carried out state by state. California already has its own executive order about it, and I thought Colorado does too though I’m not sure of that. Environmental groups like Conservation Colorado are certainly pushing to do it at the state level. It would certainly take the wind out of their sails if CO already met the 30% goal simply by virtue of how much FS roadless land we have in the state.

  2. Here’s what the EO actually says..

    “The order directs the Secretary of the Interior to pause on entering into new oil and natural gas leases on public lands or offshore waters to the extent possible, launch a rigorous review of all existing leasing and permitting practices related to fossil fuel development on public lands and waters, and identify steps that can be taken to double renewable energy production from offshore wind by 2030. The order does not restrict energy activities on lands that the United States holds in trust for Tribes. The Secretary of the Interior will continue to consult with Tribes regarding the development and management of renewable and conventional energy resources, in conformance with the U.S. government’s trust responsibilities.” Interesting it doesn’t say anything about increasing onshore renewable energy by any amount.

    And 30 x 30 sounds like a discussion of what seems likely to be the same old stuff.

    “The order commits to the goal of conserving at least 30 percent of our lands and oceans by 2030 and launches a process for stakeholder engagement from agricultural and forest landowners, fishermen, Tribes, States, Territories, local officials, and others to identify strategies that will result in broad participation. “

  3. Protected areas should also include Archaeological sites and protected stream buffers, too. Sizable acreages are within those stream buffers but I am sure that some people would want to complain that they are as protected as they would like. Research Natural Areas should also be included.

  4. “The quickest path for the United States to reach its 30 percent land goal would rely on Mr. Biden’s executive powers to increase the protection of federal lands by designating new national monuments and banning drilling, mining and timber harvesting. But most of the country’s biodiversity and potential to store carbon are not on federal lands.”

    If the main point is “biodiversity and ability to store carbon,” that should mean they need to be functioning ecosystems with integrity and diversity. (Interesting that timber harvesting is dismissed as incompatible with “protection.”)

    • I mean heck. Why not just declare all federal lands west of the Mississippi one giant national monument and be done with it? Boom, 30×30 done! After all, we’re already well one the way to making 90% of the state of Utah a national monument. Let the rest of the western states share in the love! If it makes environmental groups in New York happy, it’s worth the sacrifice for us westerners right?

      • I have another brilliant idea. You know all those useless plots of land in the middle of cloverleaf interchanges on freeways? Let’s just declare those all national monuments! That’s got to account for a decent chunk of land.

  5. Someone pointed out to me that the BLM press release assumes they are

    “Approximately 60% of land in the continental U.S. is in a natural state, but we are losing a football field worth of it every 30 seconds. The decline of nature threatens wildlife; across the globe, approximately one million animal and plant species are at risk of extinction in the coming decades, including one-third of U.S. wildlife.

    The U.S. Geological Survey reports that only 12% of lands are permanently protected. Studies show that roughly 23% of America’s ocean is currently strongly protected, with the vast majority of ocean protections found in the western Pacific Ocean.”
    The 12% comes from: GAP 1 status

    What is GAP1? “Status 1: An area having permanent protection from conversion of natural land cover and a mandated management plan in operation to maintain a natural state within which disturbance events (of natural type, frequency, intensity, and legacy) are allowed to proceed without interference or are mimicked through management.”

    It sounds like places where we let fires burn, unless “mimicked through management”? What is “maintain a natural state?” people in or out? I don’t think you can calculate a percentage unless you actually define it in a way that people can tell if something is in or out. That might be the first step.


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