House Natural Resources Questions Biden Administration On Lack of Stakeholder Engagement In Recent Oil, Natural Gas Decisions

On Tuesday, members of Congress grilled the Bureau of Land Management over “the Biden Administration’s Mismanagement of the Federal Onshore Oil and Gas Program,” and heard from stakeholders with a vested interest in responsible federal land development, from tribal leaders to local elected officials.

During Tuesday’s House Natural Resources subcommittee hearing, recent efforts from the White House to ban oil and natural gas development on millions of acres of land were top of mind. Just this week, the Department of Interior announced a new ban on oil drilling and mining across more than 4,000 acres in New Mexico. This announcement followed closely on the heels of the Biden administration’s ban on drilling in Chaco Canyon, New Mexico, and a surprise decision earlier this month to withdraw millions of acres from development in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) region.

During the first half of Tuesday’s hearing, members of the subcommittee questioned BLM Deputy Director of Operations Michael Need about the economic and environmental logic of these decisions, with particular focus on the decisions impacts on tribal communities.

As many members pointed out, nowhere is the disconnect between the Biden administration’s words and its actions more apparent than its refusal to listen to tribal communities who support responsible oil and natural gas development on their lands.

Several affected tribes have opposed the drilling prohibitions in New Mexico and Alaska and have argued they weren’t properly consulted in the decisions, calling into question the White House’s stated focus on environmental justice. During the hearing’s second witness panel, Nagruk Harcharek, president of the Voice of the Arctic Iñupiat, claimed that the BLM did not consult with the tribe before it canceled the only active leases in the ANWR.

The lease cancelation comes at a serious cost to the local communities. When asked by Rep. Tom Tiffany (R-WI) about the economic benefits native Alaskans owe to oil and natural gas development, Harcharek said:

“Huge benefits. Ninety-five percent of the revenue generated with the North Slope Borough is funded through the taxation of oil and gas infrastructure. Those dollars are invested in the communities that we have to provide modern services.” (Emphasis added)

Reducing Federal Oil and Gas Development as Prices Rise

During his opening statement, Subcommittee Chair Pete Stauber (R-MI) pointed out that nationwide, the number of households receiving government support to pay basic energy costs rose by an estimated 1.3 million last winter alone and nearly 34 percent of households skipped basic expenses last year to pay energy bills. Rather than restricting production on federal lands and making energy less affordable, Stauber argued that the Biden administration should be enabling energy production:

“I believe we need to be adding sources of energy to the mix, including domestic oil and gas development – an ‘all of the above’ energy strategy, and the best will rise to the top.”

Rep. Harriet Hageman (R-WY) took a harder line in her questioning, asking Need:

“Why is it that every policy this administration pursues is intended to create energy poverty?”

As Wyoming County Commissioner Association President Bill Novotny told members:

“My constituents are facing a 30 percent rate increase on their energy production when we are retiring perfectly good coal and gas-fired power plants within the state of Wyoming and across this country…We are stifling our economy. We are taxing our folks directly and indirectly through inflation and regulation out of house and home and their ability to sustain themselves.

“Oil and gas leads the way, and we can do it domestically, appropriately – that protects the environment, protects wildlife and ensures for future generations that we are a successful nation.”

The impacts of these decisions aren’t just economic – oil and natural gas development on American federal lands is some of the safest and lowest-emissions production to take place globally.

Committee Chair Bruce Westerman (R-AR) argued that reducing the relative production taking place in the United States doesn’t affect the demand for energy in the country or around the world; instead, it shifts market power to OPEC+ and other foreign producers with lower safety and environmental standards:

“As much as this administration pushes back, as much as the agencies push back and fail to help US producers produce the energy here, it’s doing absolutely nothing to slow down production and consumption around the world. It’s just shifting it to areas that do it less safe, less clean and not near as much oversight and regulation as we have here in the US.”

Despite these facts, some Democratic members of the committee severely mischaracterized the environmental impact of energy production on federal lands. During the second witness panel, Western Energy Alliance President Kathleen Sgamma refuted Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s (D-NY) claim that oil and natural gas production on federal lands is responsible for about a quarter of the country’s annual GHG emissions – which is an outright “falsehood,” according to Ms. Sgamma:

“That’s a complete falsehood…If you actually look at the numbers, production on federal lands and waters accounts for .6 percent of U.S. GHG emissions, not nearly a quarter.”

Reality check – American oil and natural gas production has actually helped reduce emissions, as Rep. John Curtis (R-UT) pointed out:

“I think if we’re going to have a thoughtful conversation about reducing emissions, we need to look at worldwide emissions and the fact that fossil fuels have actually been used – I know, shocker – to reduce GHG emissions around the world.”

Sgamma reminded the subcommittee that natural gas has been the “number one reason the United States has reduced more GHG emissions than any other country.”

Bottom Line: While gas prices continue to climb – reaching nearly $6 per gallon in California – the Biden administration is doing everything in its power to limit responsible oil and natural gas development on federal lands and waters. This week, the House Natural Resources committee illustrated how recent moves to limit production on federal lands undermine economic, climate, and environmental justice goals.

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