New Orleans (AP) - President Joe Biden's administration on Friday proposed up to 10 oil and gas lease sales in the Gulf of Mexico and one off the Alaska coast over the next five years.
The move goes against the Democrat's climate promises but scaling back a Trump-era plan that called for dozens of offshore drilling opportunities including in undeveloped areas.
Interior Secretary Deb Haaland said fewer than 11 lease sales -- or even no lease sales at all -- could occur, with a final decision not due for months. New drilling off the Atlantic and Pacific coasts would be blocked, after being considered under Trump.
"President Biden and I have made clear our commitment to transition to a clean energy economy. Today, we put forward an opportunity for the American people to ... provide input on the future of offshore oil and gas leasing," said Haaland, whose agency oversees drilling on federal lands and waters.
The proposal brought immediate backlash from both environmentalists -- who accused Biden of betraying the climate cause -- and oil industry officials and allies, who said it would do little to help counter high energy prices.
Gasoline prices averaged $4.84 a gallon on Friday, a strain on commuters and a political albatross for Biden's fellow Democrats going into the midterm elections. That has left the White House scrambling for solutions, including Biden's call last week for suspension of the 18.4 cents a gallon federal gas tax.
The Interior Department had suspended lease sales in late January because of climate concerns but was forced to resume them by a U.S. district judge in Louisiana.
The Biden administration cited conflicting court rulings about that decision when it canceled the last scheduled lease sales in the Gulf and Alaska during the previous offshore leasing cycle. That prior five-year cycle, a program adopted under former President Barack Obama, expired on Thursday.
There will be a months-long gap before a new plan can be put in place. The oil industry and its allies say the delay could cause problems in planning new drilling and potentially lead to decreased oil production.