WASHINGTON, Jan. 27 (Reuters) — President Joe Biden on Wednesday signed a raft of executive actions to combat climate change, including pausing new oil and gas leases on federal land and cutting fossil fuel subsidies, as he pursues green policies he billed as a boon to the economy.
The orders map out the direction for the Democratic president's climate change and environmental agenda and mark a reversal from policies under his Republican predecessor Donald Trump, who sought to maximize U.S. oil, gas and coal output by removing regulations and easing environmental reviews.
"In my view, we've already waited too long to deal with this climate crisis," Biden said at a White House ceremony, noting the threats the nation faces from intensifying storms, wildfires and droughts linked to climate change.
"This is a case where conscience and convenience cross paths, where dealing with this existential threat to the planet and increasing our economic growth and prosperity are one and the same. When I think of climate change and the answers to it, I think of jobs," Biden added.
Biden said building a modern and resilient climate-related infrastructure and a clean energy future for the United States would create millions of good-paying union jobs.
His focus on climate change has cheered international partners and environmental advocates, but upset Big Oil, which argues that the moves will cost the United States millions of jobs and billions of dollars in revenue at a time when the U.S. economy has been battered by the COVID-19 pandemic.
U.S. special climate envoy John Kerry also said the United States plans to announce before an international climate summit that Biden will hold on Earth Day on April 22 a target for reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 under the Paris climate accord. Trump had abandoned the agreement, but Biden rejoined it last week.
China leads the world and the United States is second in such emissions, which scientists link to a warming climate. Kerry indicated the United States would work with China but would not trade other pressing concerns to make climate progress.
Biden directed the Interior Department to pause new federal oil and gas leases on public lands or offshore waters "to the extent possible" and review the program's climate impacts and taxpayer benefits. The pause will not restrict energy activities on lands that the government holds in trust for Native American tribes.
Biden authorized a "rigorous review" during the pause of all existing leasing and permitting practices related to fossil fuel development on public lands and waters. Biden also set a goal to conserve 30% of federal land and waters to protect wildlife by 2030 and seek to double renewable energy production from offshore wind, also by 2030.
The orders impact large swathes of land onshore in mostly Western states, as well as offshore drilling acreage located mainly in the U.S. Gulf of Mexico, which combined make up about a quarter of the nation's oil and gas supply. The measure has drawn criticism from some states that depend on drilling revenue.
Biden also directed federal agencies to "eliminate fossil fuel subsidies as consistent with applicable law." It was not clear which subsidies could be stripped away under this order, given many of the industry's tax breaks are congressionally approved. Biden also said he would ask Congress to end subsidies through legislation.
Another order establishes climate considerations as an essential element of U.S. foreign policy and national security.
"It's not time for small measures. We need to be bold," Biden said.
'A strategic engine'
John Hess, CEO of energy company Hess Corp., said the Biden administration must keep in mind the impacts of its climate change agenda on jobs and energy security.
"They have to realize that oil and gas are a strategic engine for the U.S. economy," Hess told Wall Street analysts.
Abraxas Petroleum CEO Bob Watson separately told Reuters, "In my many years in this business, this is the worst downturn I have lived through, and this is not going to help a recovery."
Biden also faces pressure from liberals in his own party for aggressive action to address climate change. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer on Wednesday called on Biden to declare a national emergency on climate change, calling such a move "a giant step in the right direction" that would let the president tap additional resources to achieve his goals.
Biden's new orders include the creation of new climate change positions and an inter-agency task force within his administration, and measures to boost federal procurement of U.S.-sourced clean energy and vehicles, protect scientists from political interference, and assist communities most affected by industrial pollution.
(Reporting by Valerie Volcovici and Jeff Mason in Washington; Additional reporting by Timothy Gardner, Makini Brice and Lisa Lambert in Washington, Gary McWilliams in Houston and Jessica Resnick-Ault in New York; Writing by Will Dunham; Editing by Richard Valdmanis, Chizu Nomiyama and Lisa Shumaker)