Biden is falling short on climate action—but there’s still time to get it right


Werner Slocum/NREL/Flickr

Leasing restart a concern; public lands actions key

After the election, President Biden made big promises to tackle the climate crisis. After years of inaction—and backpedaling—by the Trump administration, we all breathed a collective sigh of relief. However, after a strong start, recent actions suggest the president and his administration has started to stray from his original climate agenda.

Canceling mining leases next to the Boundary Waters shows conservation is still a Biden goal, but big changes are needed to course-correct on climate.

Biden set ambitious goals, including slashing the country’s emissions and expanding land and water protections. The president followed suit on public lands by approving new clean energy projects, working to protect 30 percent of lands and waters by 2030 and elevating environmental justice.

Perhaps most promising, the administration paused the leasing of public lands for fossil fuel development. That process has long benefited the oil and gas industry and enabled a considerable amount of pollution and climate emissions. The administration’s goal was to evaluate and reform the outdated system.

Heading in the wrong direction

Unfortunately, the courts blocked the leasing pause after only a few months. Although the federal government has continued to defend the pause in court, it has also picked up leasing with full force, holding a massive offshore sale in December (which the courts later canceled citing climate change concerns) and scheduling onshore auctions for 2022. 

The Biden administration has restarted leasing with full force, scheduling auctions for this year.

Meanwhile, the Bureau of Land Management continues to approve drilling permits on lands already leased to the oil and gas industry. Throughout Biden’s first year in office, more than 3,500 permits were issued, outpacing the same period under President Trump.


Other Biden moves were puzzling and inconsistent with national climate goals.


Last year the White House issued a government-wide sustainability order that failed to set targets to reduce climate emissions for federal oil, gas, and coal leasing. And the administration has been slow to protect valuable natural carbon sinks, including old-growth forests.


While recent moves like the cancellation of mining leases next to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness signal that conservation is still a major goal for the Biden administration, it won’t be enough to address the climate and extinction crises unless the president makes a major course correction.

It’s time to make a U-turn

President Biden needs to get back on track fighting climate change, and his actions on public lands and waters are an important part of the equation.


It’s simple, really. Public lands should not be fueling the climate crisis and should instead be managed to help slow it down. That includes aggressively phasing out fossil fuel production on federal lands and protecting old-growth forests that act as carbon sinks (protecting the Boundary Waters from disruptive mining helps on that front, but much more work is needed elsewhere).


This is a crucial moment. With each passing year, we’re seeing increasing weather disasters supercharged by climate change: floods, mega-droughts, and destructive wildfires, among others. It’s time for president Biden to use every tool at his disposal to fight back.

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