With the stroke of a pen on Friday, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland dismantled a sizable chunk of her predecessors’ legacies, revoking a dozen Trump-era secretarial orders that sought to boost fossil fuel and other extraction on public lands and waters.
The move is part of the Biden administration’s broader push to combat climate-altering greenhouse gas emissions, biodiversity loss and other environmental threats.
Haaland signed two secretarial orders on Friday. The first rescinds 12 orders that former agency chiefs Ryan Zinke and David Bernhardt issued between 2017 and 2020. Among other things, those Trump-era actions overturned an Obama-era moratorium on new coal leases on federal land, set the stage for rescinding a hydraulic fracturing rule that sought to better protect public health and expedited permitting for energy projects.
In a video announcing the actions, Haaland said her predecessors’ orders were “inconsistent with our commitment to protect public health, conserve land, water and wildlife, and elevate science.”
“The previous orders unfairly tilted the balance of public land and ocean management toward extractive uses, without regard for climate change, equity or community engagement,” she said.
A second order Haaland signed establishes a climate task force charged with coordinating climate action across the massive federal agency and its bureaus. The new body will identify ways to rein in greenhouse gas emissions and bolster renewable energy, build resilience to the impacts of climate change and address environmental injustices.
“At the Department of the Interior, I believe we have a unique opportunity to make our communities more resilient to climate change and to help lead the transition to a clean energy economy,” Haaland said in a statement. “These steps will align the Interior Department with the President’s priorities and better position the team to be a part of the climate solution.”
Environmental groups welcomed the orders as an significant first step to refocus an agency that for four years prioritized extractive development above all else.
“Today’s orders make certain that the Interior Department is no longer going to serve as a rubber stamp for the coal and oil and gas industries,” said Jeremy Nichols, climate and energy program director for WildEarth Guardians. “Secretary Haaland’s actions set the stage for deep reforms within the Interior Department to ensure the federal government gets out of the business of fossil fuels and into the business of confronting the climate crisis.”
The secretary’s actions, including reinstating the Obama-era coal leasing moratorium, are certain to draw ire from Republicans, who during Haaland’s confirmation hearings attempted to paint her as a “radical” threat to the fossil fuel economy.
In January, President Joe Biden signed a number of executive orders to prioritize climate action, including one directing Interior to temporarily suspend new oil and gas leasing on federal lands and waters while it conducts a review the federal oil and gas leasing program. While experts said the leasing pause was unlikely to severely impact the oil and gas sector, industry and its allies have characterized it as a devastating attack on American energy and jobs.
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