Mountain States

Five Key Questions Ahead of President Biden’s Visit to Colorado

On Wednesday, President Biden will travel to Colorado to attend an event at Camp Hale with Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) and other elected officials where he is expected to designate a new national monument and to tout the Colorado Outdoor Recreation Economy Act.

But the timing of the visit is interesting given that the greatest source of revenue for the Great American Outdoors Act and Land and Water Conservation Fund – oil and natural gas production on federal lands – has been put in jeopardy since 2021.

As the Western Energy Alliance explains, GAOA receives 91.3 percent of its funding, or roughly $4 billion, from oil and gas revenues, while the LWCF is fully funded ($900 million annually) by revenue generated from Gulf of Mexico production. Yet, as the Wall Street Journal recently reported:

“The Biden administration has leased fewer acres for oil-and-gas drilling offshore and on federal land than any other administration in its early stages dating back to the end of World War II, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis.

“President Biden’s Interior Department leased 126,228 acres for drilling through Aug. 20, his first 19 months in office, the analysis found. No other president since Richard Nixon in 1969-70 leased out fewer than 4.4 million acres at this stage in his first term.”

And while last week the Dept. of Interior announced scoping for new lease sales to be held in New Mexico and Wyoming, these sales won’t be held until May 2023. For offshore lease sales, the planning process is even further delayed, and no lease sales have yet been scheduled.

Further, with U.S. gasoline prices back on the rise and recent news of an OPEC+ production cut, energy is top of mind, especially in Colorado – one of the top producing oil and natural gas states in the country.

Ahead of Biden’s visit, here are five key questions:

When will the U.S. Interior Department finally hold a lease sale in Colorado?

It took an act of Congress – the Inflation Reduction Act – to finally force the Biden administration to move forward with new onshore and offshore lease sales, but thus far, acreage in Colorado has not been included in any announced lease sales. The sale in June, which was the last to offer Colorado leases, had a significantly reduced offering.

If Biden truly wants greater oil and natural gas production, then when will the Interior Department announce lease sales in Colorado?

Will Biden Commit to Increased U.S. Production After OPEC+ Announced Cuts?

The Biden administration has been reaching out to foreign energy producers to try to increase production and lower oil prices. Biden sharply criticized OPEC+ last week after it announced sharp oil production cuts and the administration began exploring scaling down sanctions on Venezuela in exchange for greater production.

Yet, despite this outreach to foreign countries, Biden’s support for increased domestic production here in the United States was meager at best. Instead of begging foreign countries, will Biden match policy with rhetoric and commit to increased U.S. oil and natural gas production?

Will Polis Talk Background Ozone with Biden?

In 2019, Colorado Gov. Jared Polis (D) broke with the policies of Gov. John Hickenlooper (D), his predecessor, and did not file for a background ozone waiver from the Environmental Protection Agency. The move put the Denver Metro Area into ozone non-attainment, something that Polis initially called “good news,” but backed away from that statement after the EPA announced that the ozone non-attainment status would require the sale of a special, more expensive blend of gasoline on the Front Range.

EPA has since rejected Polis’s request to block the fuel requirements and it is estimated that drivers could be paying 20 to 30 cents more per gallon next summer. Will Polis use this opportunity to talk with Biden about efforts to help bring down gas prices by easing the ozone enforcement rules?

Will Biden Acknowledge Cancelling the Keystone XL Pipeline Weakened American Energy Security?

On his first day in office, Biden cancelled the Keystone XL pipeline and Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet was one of four Democrats to change his position on the project after the Biden administration made climate a key priority. After Biden cancelled the pipeline on his first day in office, Bennet, who had voted to authorize the project in 2015, and criticized attempts to make opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline a litmus test for the climate movement, changed his position on the pipeline.

Now, with domestic production down, America’s energy situation is precarious and former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers spoke of the need to better manage energy resources to avoid “fire drills” when oil prices rise. Summers said:

“We made a mistake when we cancelled Keystone XL…The real lesson on this is we need a different kind of energy strategy than the one we’ve had.”

But that isn’t the approach Democrats in Congress have been taking. Bennet has been blaming oil companies for high prices at the pump. Will Biden acknowledge his cancelation of the Keystone XL pipeline and Bennet’s newfound opposition to the project is contributing to the energy crunch?

Will Biden Weigh In On the Boulder Climate Lawsuit?

Just last week, the U.S. Supreme Court directed the U.S. Department of Justice to state whether it believes that the 2018 climate lawsuit filed by the City and County of Boulder and the County of San Miguel, and other municipal climate suits like it, should be heard in federal or state court.

It’s an awkward moment for Biden to come to Colorado on the heels of this news because, despite Biden pledging to “strategically support” these cases during the 2020 campaign, the DOJ has been conspicuously silent for the past two years. Compounding the matter, Polis and Attorney General Phil Weiser have notably declined to endorse the litigation effort, and proponents of the lawsuit have acknowledged their strategy includes “rais[ing] the price of the products that are causing those harmful effects so that if they are continuing to sell fossil fuels, that the cost of the harms of those fossil fuels would ultimately get priced into them.”

With Biden in Colorado right after the SCOTUS news, will he weigh in on this key jurisdictional question for the Boulder lawsuit?

Bottom Line: Energy is top of mind for Americans right now and Colorado plays a critical role in supporting a strong domestic oil and natural gas industry.

With rising gasoline prices and OPEC+ cutting production, Biden’s visit to Colorado is the ideal moment to voice strong support for American energy security, effective regulations for ozone, and a rejection of flawed climate lawsuits.

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