US House panel asks if federal leasing is back to ‘business as usual’

The US Interior Department can’t return to a “business as usual” attitude and aggressively issue oil and gas leases on land it oversees without considering the potential climate change consequences, witnesses told a House subcommittee hearing.

The US Department of the Interior realistically can’t return to a “business as usual” attitude and aggressively issue oil, gas, and mineral leases on land it oversees without considering the potential climate change consequences, witnesses told a US House Natural Resources subcommittee on July 16.

“The [Trump] administration’s fossil fuel ‘energy dominance’ agenda has been unbalanced and destructive. It has turned an economically and environmentally sound oil and gas leasing program into an industry-led free-for-all,” said David J. Hayes, who was DOI’s deputy secretary during both the Obama and Clinton administrations.

“It is both unlawful and irresponsible for the administration’s climate deniers and climate dismissers to adopt a ‘business as usual’ approach to managing our public lands in the face of climate change,” said Hayes, who now is executive director of the State Energy & Environmental Impact Center at New York University’s School of Law.

Interior balanced its stewardship responsibilities with the management of immense oil and gas reserves during the Obama administration, Rep. Alan Lowenthal (D-Calif.), who chairs the Energy and Minerals Subcommittee, said in his opening statement.

“But in 2017, the Trump administration brought this progress to a grinding halt,” Lowenthal said, adding, “Since then, [it] has championed a fossil fuel agenda and pumped millions of tons of additional emissions into the atmosphere. Interior has repealed oil and gas safeguards, opened sensitive lands to leasing, and suppressed climate science.”

Multiple improvement steps

The subcommittee’s ranking minority member, Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.), said in his opening statement that regulatory reforms under the Trump administration reversed the Obama administration’s anti-energy policies.

“It has taken multiple steps to improve the [federal] oil and gas leasing and permitting process, including allowing the states to regulate hydraulic fracturing, reducing the economic burden of regulations including the 2016 methane rule, eliminating duplicative layers of environmental review, and taking steps to move regulatory decision-makers closer to communities impacted by these decisions,” Gosar said.

Other witnesses also called on Interior policymakers to take possible climate consequences of accelerated federal oil and gas resource development more seriously.

“[It] is associated with multiple human health hazards, risks, and impacts via air, water, and other environmental pathways. Given that oil and gas are fossil fuels, strong scientific consensus supported by decades of peer-reviewed research has confirmed that their production and use present significant climate risks,” Seth B.C. Shonkoff, executive director of the PSE Healthy Energy research institute in Berkley, Calif., said in his written testimony.

Another witness disagreed. Nicolas Loris, deputy director of The Heritage Foundation’s Roe Institute for Economic Freedom, said in his written testimony, “The climate impacts of oil and gas production on federal lands, and of energy production in the United States broadly, are negligible. 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 US.”

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