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US oil, gas leasing faces another hurdle as Dems float bill to align policy with climate goals

Highlights

Bill calls for regularly updated emissions reduction strategy

Republicans say it 'triples down' on high energy costs

Democratic US House members Sept. 20 sought another pause on federal oil and natural gas leasing to allow further analysis on the impact fossil fuel development on public lands and waters has on US' ability to meet its emissions reduction goals.

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Public lands and waters account for nearly a quarter of US annual carbon emissions from the coal, oil and gas extraction that occurs there. The Public Lands and Waters Climate Leadership Act of 2022, HR 8802, would require the Interior Department to manage public lands and waters with an eye on minimizing and mitigating greenhouse gas emissions and adapting to climate change.

President Joe Biden has pushed to put the country on a path to cutting the nation's GHG emissions in half by 2030 measured against 2005 levels, decarbonizing the power sector by 2035 and zeroing out economywide emissions by midcentury.

The bill would task Interior with issuing a public report and action plan on whether lifecycle GHG emissions from new fossil fuel leasing and permitting on public lands and waters are consistent with achieving Biden's climate goals for 2030, 2035 and 2050. While that report was being drafted, no new oil, gas or coal lease sales or approvals of fossil fuel permits and infrastructure would be allowed.

House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Raúl Grijalva, Democrat-Arizona, said during a hearing before his panel's energy and mineral resources subcommittee, that his motivation behind introducing the bill was "accepting the reality that public lands and waters are a quarter of the contributors to carbon emissions and greenhouse gas, and the reverse of that is we can be a quarter of the domestic solution."

The legislation mandates a responsibility for Interior "to demonstrate whether fossil fuel development on US public lands and waters is undermining the country's climate goals," he said. "If the department determines that more fossil fuel leasing and permitting will prevent the US from meeting our emissions targets, then we should not be expanding coal, oil or gas development. It's that simple."

Strategy

Under the bill, Interior would team with the Forest Service to develop and implement an emissions reduction strategy for public lands and waters that must be updated every three years. A draft of the strategy would be open to a public comment period and the final version would require consultation and input from other agencies, states, tribes, labor unions, nonprofits and environmental justice communities.

The resumption of fossil fuel leasing and permitting would be contingent on the strategy demonstrating that emissions from those new activities would not jeopardize climate targets. That leasing and permitting activity would also be subject to a new climate screening policy to test whether the proposal was individually consistent with the most recent emissions reduction strategy.

The bill would also require Interior to publish online information about emissions and avoided emissions from public lands and waters, and to reform fossil fuel fiscal terms to account for the damages to the climate resulting from oil, gas and coal extraction from public lands and waters.

Subcommittee Chairman Alan Lowenthal, Democrat-California, said that the emissions reduction strategy would result in the development of an energy plan for public lands that deals with the threat of climate change. He insisted that Republicans should view such an outcome as the answer to their calls for the Biden administration to develop a comprehensive energy strategy.

"HR 8802 advances a long-term approach to managing oil, gas and coal over the coming years in a manner that helps us transition towards a clean energy future and stave off climate disaster," he said.

GOP pushback

Lowenthal's Republican colleagues did not agree.

"Democrats right here and now are again proposing to ban oil and gas development at a time when energy prices are higher than they've ever been and demand for energy will rise in both the short and long term," subcommittee Ranking Member Pete Stauber, Republican-Minnesota, said.

The bill "triples down on the Democrat policies that sent energy prices sky high for Americans," including an earlier pause to leasing activity and the cancellation of the Keystone XL Pipeline that started "a domino effect that made this past summer the most expensive driving season in memory and now promises a cold expensive winter," he added.

Stauber argued that the bill also conflicted with provisions in current laws, namely a requirement in the Mineral Leasing Act to hold quarterly onshore lease sales and a measure in the Inflation Reduction Act that requires oil and gas lease sales to take place before certain renewable energy projects can proceed.

"We can reduce emissions and produce American energy to meet our needs and keep up a high quality of life," he said, adding that he planned to expose the administration's true intent to ban domestic energy production.

Grijalva pushed back on opposition as Republican efforts to delay climate action. He contended that a shift to clean energy was coming regardless, and he would rather study, plan and manage the way forward than deal with a sharp, painful transition.