Keep It In the Ground Policies ‘Not a Good Way to Go’

The head of a New York University program funded by “Keep It In the Ground” champion Michael Bloomberg told members of Congress this week that ending oil and natural gas development on federal lands – as advocated by activists and some Democratic presidential contenders – is “not a good way to go.”

When asked by Rep. Alan Lowenthal (D-Calif.) about taking a KIITG approach to energy production on federal lands, State Energy & Environmental Impact Center Director David Hayes told the House Natural Resources Committee:

“The reality is that we have a lot of infrastructure on our public lands to produce oil and gas. It’s providing an important contribution to our economy.”

Pressed further by Rep. Garret Graves (R-La.), Hayes – a former deputy Interior secretary in the Clinton and Obama administrations – reiterated his view on KIITG:

“It’s impractical and inappropriate to stop oil and gas drilling on our public lands and federal waters right now.”

Such a position seems to conflict with the views of KIITG activists who also testified during the committee hearing on climate and public health impacts from energy development, and with those of Bloomberg. The former New York mayor, whose $6 million grant helped start Hayes’ center at NYU, this year put $500 million into the Sierra Club’s campaign to halt the growth of natural gas.

The folly of such KIITG policies, however, came out in other testimony during this week’s committee hearing, where members of Congress heard that drilling on public lands boosts the U.S. economy, has very little effect on climate change and gives consumers a cleaner source of energy compared to producers in other countries.

Key Takeaway: Placing a moratorium on oil and gas drilling would drive up prices, harming the economy, and have no impact on climate change.

Drilling Boosts the Economy

Nicolas Loris of the Heritage Foundation said in his testimony,

“Expanding energy production on federal lands will lower energy bills and create jobs without having any meaningful impact on climate.”

Loris explored the topic of energy prices deeper in a response to a question on the impacts of immediately ending drilling on public lands, saying,

“If you’re raising energy prices on both the production side and the consumption side of the economy, that means businesses are going to pass those costs on to consumers.”

In addition to noting the economic benefits of cheaper energy, Loris also noted the societal benefits, explaining that revenue from production on federal and state-owned lands help states fund hospitals, schools and infrastructure projects.

Ending Drilling on Public Lands Will Not Lower Climate Change-Causing Emissions

In his testimony, Loris explained that, according to a model funded by the EPA, banning natural resource production on federal lands would not decrease climate change. When asked point-blank what environmental impacts ending drilling would have, Loris answered, “It would not make any meaningful impact on climate change.”

In fact, witnesses and Ranking Member Paul Gosar (R – Ariz.) pointed out that oil and natural gas development in environmentally conscious countries like the United States is more beneficial to the planet than development in countries that care less about the environment.

In his testimony, Loris said,

“Banning or restricting oil and natural gas development on federal lands is not going to stop the domestic or global consumption of conventional fuels. Consequently, reducing domestic supplies will increase dependence from sources with far less rigorous environmental standards than the U.S.”

Hayes agreed, saying, “if we have less drilling on our public lands, we’d get oil and gas from somewhere else.”

Gosar also pointed out that a policy restricting energy production on public lands would make the country more dependent on foreign producers.

“Eliminating fossil fuel production on public lands… will not lessen our need for these energy resources. In fact, such proposals will only increase our dependence on oil, LNG and coal produced abroad, where environmental responsibility is not a top priority.”

Business-as-Usual is Already Reducing Emissions

During the hearing, Committee Democrats frequently suggested that oil and natural gas development is raising emissions. In reality, greenhouse gas emissions are falling on federal lands where development is permitted. For example, Loris referenced a November report from the U.S. Geological Survey that found that carbon dioxide emissions fell more than 6 percent on federal lands from 2005 to 2014.

Gosar added that U.S. carbon emissions reached their lowest levels since 1992 and per capita carbon emissions are at their lowest levels since 1950. He said,

“The U.S. is leading the way in voluntary carbon emissions reductions and conventional energy resources have played a significant role in a cleaner energy economy at home and abroad.”

Growth in natural gas production and technological innovation has driven these emission reductions, explained Gosar. Expanding the energy sector and reducing emissions are not mutually exclusive, he argued; the U.S. should commit to doing both concurrently, as it already is doing.


A moratorium on oil and natural gas production on federal lands – as proposed by activists and numerous Democratic presidential candidates – would drive up prices and cut economic benefits . And it would result in no real environmental benefit – perhaps even increased global emissions – as consumers are forced to turn to other countries with less respect for the environment to fulfill their energy needs.

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