This Feb. 26, 2021, file photo shows an oil well east of Casper, Wyo. The Biden administration is raising royalty rates that companies must pay for oil and natural gas extracted from federal lands as it moves forward under court order with sales of public fossil fuel reserves in nine states. (AP Photo/Mead Gruver, File)

Biden administration holding its first onshore oil sales

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — The U.S. government this week is holding its first onshore oil and gas drilling lease auctions since President Joe Biden took office after a federal court blocked the administration’s attempt to suspend such sales because of climate change worries.

The online auctions start Wednesday and conclude Thursday. About 200 square miles of federal lands were offered for lease in nine western states. Most of the parcels are in Wyoming.

The sales come as federal officials try to balance efforts to fight climate change against pressure to bring down high gas prices.

Republicans want Biden to expand U.S. crude production. But he faces calls from within his own party to do more to curb fossil fuel emissions that are heating the planet.

A coalition of 10 environmental groups said in a lawsuit filed before the sales even began that they were illegal because officials acknowledged the climate change impacts but proceeded anyway.

An immediate ruling was not expected. Interior Department spokesperson Melissa Schwartz said the agency did not have comment on the litigation.

Beginning with this week’s sales the royalty rate for oil produced from new federal leases is increasing to 18.75% from 12.5%. That’s a 50% jump and marks the first increase since the 1920s.