Interior Secretary Deb Haaland got a strong push July 13 from a Senate subcommittee chairman to end all new lease sales for oil and gas in federal offshore waters.
Haaland appeared before a Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies, which was considering the Biden administration’s request for $18.1 billion in funding for fiscal year 2023, a 12% increase over what was enacted for 2022.
The subcommittee chairman, Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), focused in part on the recently proposed 5-year plan for offshore oil and gas leasing, in which Interior said it would consider as many as 11 lease sales and as few as none (OGJ Online, July 5, 2022).
“I urge you to choose the ‘no lease’ option in your final plan,” Merkley said. He based his recommendation of what he called “climate chaos” and “the catastrophic changes that we are experiencing” because of climate change.
A letter urging no new leasing in the federal offshore was sent June 29 to Haaland from Merkley, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), and Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ).
Alaska action wanted
Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Ala.), the top Republican on the subcommittee, said a lack of offshore lease sales would make no sense and would be harmful to the US economy.
Murkowski lamented that Interior had proposed only one lease sale over the next 5 years for Cook Inlet, Alaska, rather than one per year.
Murkowski referred to a recent Cook Inlet lease sale that was canceled because, according to Interior, companies showed a lack of interest. “I can say unequivocally that is not the case,” she said.
She also made a passing reference to the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, where a 2017 law mandated oil leasing, but Interior has prevented exploration from going ahead after a January 2021 lease sale.
“The administration is illegally disregarding the law,” Murkowski said.
Windfall tax wanted
Merkley used the occasion to denounce oil companies for high fuel prices, saying, “They are truly gouging the American public.”
Merkley said he wants a windfall profits tax on oil companies.
In late June, the talk was of Wyden wanting to see an additional 21% tax on oil company profits for all profits above a 10% profit margin. Companies currently pay a 21% tax on profits, so such a proposal would double their tax burden. Wyden has not yet introduced his bill.
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) introduced his own windfall profits tax bill (S. 3802) Mar. 10 with 16 cosponsors. An identical companion bill was introduced in the House by Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) and has garnered 22 cosponsors.
And Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) introduced his windfall profits tax bill (H.R. 7099) in the House Mar.16 and has been joined by 46 cosponsors.