The top Republican on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee is prepared to oppose Rep. Deb Haaland (D-N.M.) to serve as President Biden’s nominee to lead the Interior Department, the latest in an ongoing confrontation between oil-friendly lawmakers and the new White House over its climate priorities on federal lands.
“Representative Haaland’s radical views are squarely at odds with the responsible management of our nation’s energy resources,” Sen. John Barrasso of Wyoming said in a statement to E&E News today. “Her vocal opposition to oil and gas production on federal lands will only encourage President Biden along the illegal and reckless path that he has begun.”
He continued, “Representative Haaland must demonstrate that she will follow the law, protect the multiple uses of our public lands, and reject policies that will force energy workers into the unemployment line. I won’t support her nomination otherwise.”
Barrasso’s comments are significant in that they come from the ranking member of the committee that will convene Haaland’s confirmation hearing, which has yet to even be scheduled. They are, however, neither surprising nor out of character for the conservative senator.
Biden roiled congressional Republicans from energy-producing states, including Barrasso, by plucking low-hanging climate action in his first days in office — revoking a critical permit for the Keystone XL pipeline, committing to rejoin the Paris climate accord, and freezing new oil and gas leasing on federal lands pending a climate review (E&E Daily, Jan. 25).
Additionally, Biden’s Interior Department mandated that all oil- and gas-related decisions be funneled through top brass for approval for 60 days — an action that’s sown resentment in the federal oil patch.
Barrasso has responded to the new climate focus on federal land by acting as co-sponsor to Sen. Cynthia Lummis’ (R-Wyo.) bill, “Protecting Our Wealth of Energy Resources,” S. 76, which would hamstring presidential attempts to freeze oil and gas permitting or leasing by making it contingent on congressional approval.
He has since accused Interior of inequitably carrying out that order from one state to the next and demanded an explanation in a letter last week to acting Interior Secretary Scott de la Vega on how oil and gas operations are progressing on federal lands under the new administration, with data to show it.
Wyoming, which has no personal income tax, stands to be one of the states most affected by any significant change to federal fossil fuel programs. It is the largest onshore producer of federal natural gas, is the second largest producer of federal oil on land and supplies the lion’s share of national coal for the power sector.
Critics pile on
Barrasso’s comments show Senate Republicans are prepared to make Biden’s Cabinet nominees pay a political price for the president’s environmental agenda, including Haaland, who also boasts her own record of opposing fossil fuel development on federal lands independently of the new administration.
His remarks follow a statement Friday from Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.) that threatened the use of procedural tactics to delay Haaland’s confirmation over her alignment with Biden’s environmental agenda (E&E Daily, Feb. 8).
“I’m not convinced the Congresswoman can divorce her radical views and represent what’s best for Montana and all stakeholders in the West,” Daines said.
By today, Montana Conservation Voters was asking Daines to reconsider his threats, accusing him of applying a double standard to “the nation’s first indigenous woman ever to be nominated to a cabinet position” versus what he did when he had the chance to force the ouster of President Trump’s controversial acting BLM director, William Perry Pendley.
Wyoming and Montana Republicans are not alone in their opposition to Biden’s leasing pause.
Barrasso’s Friday letter to de la Vega came the same day House Republicans, led by Rep. Lauren Boebert of Colorado, introduced the latest in a slew of bills that would reverse the president’s executive orders.
Boebert’s bill, H.R. 859, would eliminate the presidential authority granted in the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act to removes offshore areas from energy leasing.
President Obama used the provision, 12(a), to make much of the Arctic Ocean inaccessible to oil drillers in 2016. Last year, Trump called on that same provision to underscore an election-season tender in Florida to freeze energy leasing for the eastern Gulf of Mexico an additional 10 years, after the congressional moratorium sunsets next year (E&E Daily, Sept. 9, 2020).
Boebert’s 22 House GOP co-sponsors include Natural Resources ranking member Bruce Westerman of Arkansas and Reps. Don Young of Alaska, Louie Gohmert of Texas and Paul Gosar of Arizona.
The bill would block presidential energy moratoriums on federal lands and waters and require congressional approval for actions that would block or delay leasing and permitting of oil, natural gas, coal and critical minerals.
Lawmakers in oil-friendly states are also making the rounds defending energy development on public lands when not promoting a particular bill.
Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), in an interview with Fox News’ Chris Wallace, said Biden’s approach to energy policy has been “heartless” and was putting people out of work.
“How devastating a policy,” House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.), in an interview with Maria Bartiromo on Fox Business this morning, said in agreement. “What a kick to the gut of hardworking families, middle-class, blue-collar jobs that are going to be wiped out.”