Department of Interior Hampers Biden’s Energy Policy

The Biden administration’s release of its much anticipated oil and gas regulations for drilling on federal lands, which are critical given their direct impact on drilling and emissions, were scheduled for March 2022, but as of early May have yet to be released.

The Department of the Interior (DOI) also hasn’t released proposed rules on other energy issues, although they were anticipated for early this year, such as new regulations for high-pressure offshore drilling, offshore oil spills, and renewable energy.

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Outside observers believe the delay, which emphasizes the struggle the administration has faced in producing headlining oil reforms since taking office, is due to the problematic politics of oil policy, the convoluted federal rulemaking process, and a plethora of court battles the administration is currently fighting over climate metrics and oil leasing.

In the coming weeks or months, the administration is expected to update its plan for releasing environmental and energy rules. That new forecast could shed light on both the progress that has been made and the adjusted election-year ambitions of DOI’s energy agenda.

Federal rulemaking can be grueling, says Mark Squillace, a federal energy law expert at the University of Colorado Law School and a former Special Assistant to the DOI Solicitor during the Clinton administration. But the administration should be attacking the coordinated oil and gas policy reforms with a task force — something outside the normal pace of writing regulations — to ensure that it gets done.

But when it comes to regulatory delays at DOI and several other agencies, Biden officials may not have realized how long it would take to undo Trump rollbacks.

“The Trump administration left behind such a big mess that cleaning that up and actually taking affirmative steps beyond that turned out to be a bigger job than the Biden administration maybe anticipated,” said James Goodwin, a regulatory policy analyst at the Center for Progressive Reform.

In addition, he suspected the Trump-fueled conservative judiciary has created a “chilling effect.”

“There is just this insane caution,” he added. “They will not let things come out of the agency unless they are bulletproof. Seems to be something that Democrats are afflicted with more than Republicans.”

Administration officials are now facing an increasingly narrow window in which to put their policies on the books. With midterm elections coming up later in the year, it’s possible Republican victories could lead to congressional obstacles to Biden’s executive actions and further delays to his energy agenda.