A nominee to a post overseeing federal oil and gas leasing received a tie vote Nov. 18 in the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, opening the way for her nomination to be advanced to the full Senate.
Laura Daniel-Davis, nominated to be Interior Department assistant secretary of land and minerals management, received the votes of all Democrats and the opposition of all Republicans on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. The 10-10 vote, under the rules of the equally divided Senate, allows Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer to call up her nomination for a vote by the full Senate, where a tie can be broken by Vice-President Kamala Harris.
There was no question of her experience. Currently principal deputy assistant secretary for land and minerals management, she also has been chief of staff for Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and his successor Sally Jewell, and she worked in Interior during the Clinton administration.
If confirmed, she will oversee the Bureau of Land Management and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, agencies that lease federal onshore and offshore lands for oil and gas exploration and production, as well as the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, the offshore safety regulator.
Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) expressed very strong opposition to her nomination. Under her oversight since Joe Biden became president, Interior has made it more difficult for oil and gas companies to work on federal lands, he said. Such actions will not reduce global production, he said.
Instead, restrictions on oil and gas production from federal lands shift production to Russia and the nations in the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries while leaving consumption and greenhouse gas emissions unchanged, Barrasso said.
Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), chairman of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, argued it was appropriate to support a nominee who would implement the president’s agenda.
Energy market probe
Barrasso also made reference to energy price increases, a political sore point in recent months. The senator suggested policies under President Biden have been inflationary.
A day earlier, Biden responded to the worries about inflation by sending a letter to the Federal Trade Commission requesting an investigation of possible “illegal conduct” in US fuel markets, and in particular he mentioned retail prices of gasoline. Biden’s letter suggested there was evidence of “anti-consumer behavior by oil and gas companies.”
In recent decades, rapid runups in gasoline prices have led to investigations by federal agencies and Congress, investigations that typically fade away with no findings of company collusion.
In response to Biden’s call for an investigation, Frank Macchiarola, a senior vice-president at the American Petroleum Institute, issued a statement saying Biden’s action “is a distraction” from market fundamentals and “ill-advised government decisions” that make things worse.
“Demand has returned as the economy comes back and is outpacing supply,” Macchiarola said. “Further impacting the imbalance is the continued decision from the administration to restrict access to America’s energy supply and cancel important infrastructure projects.”
FERC gets fifth commissioner
Another federal action managed to avoid controversy. The Senate Nov. 16 approved the nomination of Willie Phillips to be a commissioner of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). Because his nomination had bipartisan support, it was a voice vote, effectively unanimous though without a vote count.
Phillips had been chairman of the Public Service Commission of the District of Columbia. His move to FERC gives the federal regulator a full complement of five commissioners.
FERC has authority to approve interstate natural gas pipelines. FERC also approves the rates though not the routes of interstate oil pipelines.