Mountain States

Key Questions for Interior Secretary Haaland Ahead of Colorado Visit

Interior Secretary Deb Haaland is visiting Denver, Grand Junction, and Ridgeway, Colo. this week and the trip comes at a crucial time in the debate over critical issues around energy production, conservation, and government leadership across the Western United States.

Ahead of Haaland’s visit, here are the key questions:

When Will the Illegal Federal Leasing Ban Be Lifted?

It’s been more than a month since a federal judge in Louisiana ruled that the Biden administration’s so-called pause on oil and natural gas leasing amounts to an illegal ban. U.S. District Court Judge Terry Doughty ruled:

“…By pausing the leasing, the agencies are in effect amending two Congressional statutes, OCSLA and MLA, which they do not have the authority to do.”

Doughty’s ruling also included granting a preliminary injunction that directs Interior to lift the ban, and despite a department spokesman saying at the time it “would comply with the decision,” last week, Bloomberg Law reported:

“Interior Communications Director Melissa Schwartz said Thursday that the department is still reviewing Doughty’s preliminary injunction and declined to comment on whether a lease sale announcement is imminent.”

But as Energy In Depth has noted, the ruling is only 44 pages and Doughty makes it very clear that this is an illegal ban.

Federal leasing in Colorado generated $121 million in tax revenue in 2019, while leasing in neighboring New Mexico and Wyoming generated $1.5 billion and $833 million, respectively.

As federal leasing is a critical part of Colorado’s economy and those across the west, and the program generated $10 billion a year in tax revenue (the second biggest revenue generator outside the IRS), when will Secretary Haaland and the Interior Department lift this illegal leasing ban?

When Will the Environmental Review of the Leasing Program Be Published?

The Biden administration justified its leasing ban by stating that an environmental review of the program needed to be completed before new leases could go forward.

That argument was rejected by Judge Doughty, who stated:

“Although there is certainly nothing wrong with performing a comprehensive review, there is a problem in ignoring acts of Congress while the review is being completed.”

Energy In Depth has outlined key questions Americans are waiting to have answered with the report’s release, which Secretary Haaland has repeatedly said will happen in “early summer.”

It’s now late July and the end of summer is fast approaching as the leasing program and the industry hangs in limbo. When will Interior’s draft assessment of the leasing program be released?

Will Industry and Business Leaders Be Heard?

So far, the only details known about Secretary Haaland’s visit is that the secretary is scheduled to meet with “federal, state and local elected officials, tribal leaders and community members,” according to E&E News.

Noticeably absent from the list are oil and natural gas industry workers and the business community. A PricewaterhouseCoopers analysis conducted on behalf of the American Petroleum Institute found that Colorado’s oil and gas industry represented about 8.6 percent of the state’s total employment in 2019 (340,000 direct and indirect jobs) and 11.7 percent of state gross domestic product ($46.1 billion).

The report also found that for every direct job (69,000 in 2019), the industry generated 3.9 additional jobs elsewhere in the economy and provided $34.1 billion in labor income.

If Secretary Haaland is going to jump on a plane that burns 21 tons of jet fuel, will she meet with the workers who produced the oil that made the trip possible?

Will There Be a Commitment to Keep the BLM Headquarters in Grand Junction?

Last year, the Bureau of Land Management – which oversees the federal leasing program in addition to overseeing other critical economic issues in the west – relocated its headquarters to Grand Junction.

Ninety-nine percent of federal lands in the United States are located west of the Mississippi River, so the Grand Junction headquarters puts BLM in the heart of the lands it manages.

Colorado’s two U.S. Senators, Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper, issued a statement saying that they “support a fully functioning BLM headquarters in Grand Junction” and that:

“We’re happy to host Secretary Haaland and look forward to productive conversations with Grand Junction community leaders on the future of the BLM headquarters.”

While serving in the U.S. House of Representatives in 2019, Haaland criticized the BLM relocation to Grand Junction. Will she give her support for the new headquarters during her visit?

Will the 30×30 Plan Keep Pushing Ahead?

As both a Congresswoman and Interior Secretary, Haaland has been a strong supporter of the 30×30 plan that would set aside 30 percent of American land and waters for conservation and prohibit multi-use opportunities to block economic development.

Garfield County, on Colorado’s Western Slope where most of the state’s federal lands are located, passed a resolution opposing the 30×30 plan. County commissioners said:

“The resolution also highlights negative impacts the executive order would have in Garfield County, likely causing ‘significant harm’ to the local economy by preventing productive use of resources on those lands, and depriving residents of access to public lands.

Will Haaland meet with local leaders who opposed the federal government restricting the use of the land in their own communities?

Hopefully, the secretary’s visit answers some of these important questions for Coloradans.

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