BILLINGS — Declaring the country can't wait any longer to address the climate crisis, President Joe Biden signed three executive orders Wednesday to prioritize climate change across all levels of government.
The Biden plan essentially offers a road map to transform the nation's fossil fuel-powered economy into a clean-burning one. Its goal is to eliminate pollution from fossil fuels in the power sector by 2035.
Topping the president's bold initiatives, a moratorium on leasing of new oil, gas and coal leases on public lands and waters.
Biden’s orders direct the Secretary of the Interior Department to halt new oil and natural gas leases on public lands and waters and begin a thorough review of existing permits for fossil fuel development.
Republicans immediately criticized the plan as a job killer.
Wyoming U.S. Sen. John Barrasso, the ranking Republican on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, took his concerns to the Senate floor.
"The president’s order will deprive thousands of people in Wyoming of their jobs and a principal source of revenue for public education and other essential services," Barrasso said. "If President Biden is serious about bringing our country together, he needs to understand that actions speak louder than words.”
Montana U.S.Sen. Steve Daines announced that he plans to introduce legislation to prohibit Biden from freezing new oil and gas leases on federal lands.
"President Biden is continuing his attack on American energy, this time by blocking all new oil and gas leases on federal lands," said Daines. "This is another blow to Made in America energy, jobs and our Montana way of life. We can't let this happen."
Daines called on the president to meet with himself and other western senators to discuss the implications of his executive actions on energy-producing states.
Environmental groups hailed the president's actions Wednesday.
“For too long, powerful industry interests have dictated how millions of acres of land in this country are used," said Summer Nelson, director of the Sierra Club's Montana Chapter. "We look forward to a full review on the impacts of dangerous and outdated fossil fuel leasing on public lands, better consultation with Tribal Nations, and investments in communities and workers."
Former Montana Revenue Director Dan Bucks told MTN News that reforming the federal leasing program is long overdue.
"Interior’s oil and gas leasing program has shortchanged U.S. taxpayers untold billions of dollars in lease payments and royalties," said Bucks, who is the former executive director of the Multistate Tax Commission. "A pause on leasing will not adversely affect oil and gas production because there is already a glut of federal leases stockpiled from decades of excessive leasing."
Also on Wednesday, Jennifer Granholm, Biden's nominee to become the nation's 16th Energy Secretary, went before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee for her confirmation hearing.
Both Sens. Barrasso and Daines pressed the former Michigan governor on potential job losses as a result of the president's moratorium.
Barrasso requested that Granholm give serious consideration to creating a Department of Energy office in Wyoming. Daines asked that Montana's Colstrip Power Complex be considered as a DOE test facility for new carbon capture technology.
Granholm's confirmation to become the nation's 16th director of the Department of Energy is expected to be approved by the full Senate within the week.
At Wednesday's signing ceremony at the White House, Biden also spoke at length about the coal industry, saying he wants to reclaim mines that have been closed and bring new jobs to the industry that built this country.
The president pledged to "stand by coal miners and coal communities" as the country transitions away from fossil fuels, reclaiming mines, and turning old brownfield sites into new hubs of economic growth.
The president also said he would not ban "fracking," also known as hydraulic fracturing. Instead, Biden said he would begin a new initiative to cap abandoned oil and gas wells across the country, creating thousands of jobs.