Interior offshore drilling plan lambasted by both sides at US Senate committee
Growing debate over the federal government’s plans to either allow more oil and gas production to curb inflation or limit drilling to meet climate goals spilled over into a panel hearing on Wednesday. US Senate expenses.
With testimony from Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, members of the Senate Interior and Environment Appropriations Subcommittee argued over the department recent five-year proposal for offshore oil and gas production in the Gulf of Mexico and federal waters off the Alaskan coast, which could allow for up to 11 new drilling leases.
President Jeff Merkley of Oregon said the plan — and the administration’s broader energy program — aren’t aggressive enough to tackle climate change. Arguments that more oil and gas are needed to lower energy prices were unconvincing, the Democrat said.
Rather than increasing fossil fuel supply, the country should focus on its transition, he said.
“We might hear today about high gas prices and the need for more drilling,” Merkley said. “It’s like a heroin addict saying the solution to heroin addiction is more heroin.”
Merkley urged Haaland to choose the “no lease” option in the proposed offshore lease plan.
The oil and gas industry questioned the legality of this option, especially after an invalid federal judge of President Joe Biden decree of January 2021 to suspend new lease sales last year — but Merkley said Wednesday there was nothing in federal law to require lease sales.
Ranking Republican Lisa Murkowski of Alaska called the no-lease option “unacceptable” and called for annual lease sales in the federal waters of Cook Inlet. The plan could accommodate a maximum of one sale in five years.
Haaland, a former House Democrat from New Mexico, said she couldn’t say which option the department would choose.
The plan is two weeks away after a three-month public comment period and Haaland said she couldn’t “prejudge” where this process will lead.
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Biden’s energy policy under attack
Members of both parties have expressed dissatisfaction with Biden’s energy development record.
Biden has been too slow to shift U.S. energy consumption toward fossil fuels that release climate-altering carbon emissions, Merkley said.
The department’s analysis last year of oil and gas leasing programs failed to take climate change into account, and the administration has continued to ignore climate considerations in evaluating projects that require leasing. federal approval, he added.
“President Biden has publicly advocated for a paradigm shift in how we manage our public lands and waters for energy development,” he said. “But in practice, what we’ve seen is a blanket approach, an approach that won’t boldly address our climate challenge.”
Republicans on the panel, including Murkowski, took a different view.
“I really, really believe that our national security interests demand that we increase our domestic supply of these resources, including from our offshore areas,” she said.
“I have heard that oil is an addiction. I recognize that we depend on it,” she said.
But “there is no benefit to heroin addiction,” she said. “Our reality as a country is that we have a resource that we not only need right now, but the world needs right now.”
Murkowski acknowledged that there would be a transition to other forms of energy, but said that for now, the increase in oil supply was necessary to bring prices down.
Murkowski sought approval for Project Willow to allow massive oil drilling in Alaska’s North Slope. The department’s Bureau of Land Management has issued a draft Environmental Impact Statement move the project forward Last week.
Offshore, Murkowski said even considering not holding new leases was absurd.
“I think it’s actually harmful to our economy and our national security,” she said. “The national interest demands that the administration avoid a costly interruption of the rental and proceed with sales abroad.”
Other Republicans questioned Haaland about the plan and were more combative about the administration’s record.
U.S. oil and gas companies have slowed supply due to administration messaging about transitioning away from oil and gas, Tennessee Republican Bill Hagerty said.
“American oil and gas companies are not investing right now because the environment has been terrible for them,” he said.
“You’ve created an environment here, you’ve sent every message since this administration took office…that the Biden administration will make sure oil and gas investments don’t pay off in America.”
Hagerty asked Haaland to commit to expanding oil and gas production. Haaland declined to make that promise, saying she was pursuing a “balanced” approach.
Democrats and environmentalists have generally dismissed the idea that more drilling permits will lead to lower gas prices. The industry already has more than 9,000 unused drilling permits, Haaland said on Wednesday. New leases are not productive for years once approved.
Hagerty said the department should send “a message to the market” to increase production.
Senators on the panel found more common ground in calling for national resources to fight wildfires.
Merkley said he was pleased the bipartisan Infrastructure Act provided $20 billion for fire programs.
Murkowski said fires were damaging his condition, with 13 new blazes in the past 24 hours. She said the federal government should be active in fire prevention.
Haaland said infrastructure law money has already been spent on wildfire fighters and on treating land to make it more fire resistant. The president’s budget request for fiscal year 2023 would complement those efforts, she said, with up to an additional $1.5 billion for wildfire management.
Senator Roy Blunt, a Republican from Missouri who is retiring at the end of this year, promoted the wildlife bill he wrote with New Mexico Democrat Martin Heinrich.
The bill would allow the Interior to work with states to achieve wildlife conservation goals, but was not intended to expand the enforcement powers of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Agency, Blunt said. He asked if Haaland would implement the bill this way, should it pass.
Haaland responded that she sees the bill as an “opportunity to help states,” saying state agencies know the issues better than federal agencies and that the department would play a supporting role.
The National Park Service, an interior agency, lost 29% of its workforce from 2010 to 2020 even as visitation increased, said Maryland Democrat Chris Van Hollen.
Visitors to Chesapeake National Historical Park and the Ohio Canal have increased 85% in 15 years, but staff have shrunk by about half in the same time, Van Hollen said, asking what Haaland planned to do. do about this trend.
Biden proposed budget includes a $148.3 million funding increase for the service, which would support more than 1,100 jobs, Haaland responded.
The department is also “trying to find solutions” to a housing shortage for NPS staff, Haaland said.