House Dems cross party lines, demand Biden admin expand oil drilling

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A group of House Democrats penned a letter Thursday to several top Biden administration and White House officials, demanding the immediate continuance of uninterrupted offshore oil and gas leasing.

The Democrats — led by Rep. Vicente Gonzalez, D-Texas — called for the Department of the Interior (DOI) to immediately issue its legally mandated plan for offshore fossil fuel lease sales, which the agency has delayed for more than 12 months. The lawmakers noted that the Inflation Reduction Act tethers new wind leases to oil and gas leases, meaning the former could be threatened without consistent fossil fuel leasing.

‘As members of Congress representing Americans across six districts in three states, we write to urge the U.S. Department of the Interior to take immediate action necessary to hold uninterrupted offshore oil and gas lease sales under the pending 2023-2028 National Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program to avoid the now expected offshore wind leasing cliff,’ they wrote in the letter.

‘Limiting oil and gas sales to one per year eliminates much needed flexibility and opens the possibility for unforeseen circumstances that would delay or cancel lease sales, including the possibility of future administrations holding offshore wind leasing hostage,’ the Democrats continued.

Under the 1953 Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act, the federal government is required to issue plans every five years laying out prospective offshore oil and gas lease sales. The most recent plan, which was implemented in 2017, expired in June 2022.

On July 1, 2022, the DOI published a draft proposal for a replacement five-year plan, which laid out multiple options for leasing between 2023 and 2028. The plan included an option with no lease sales during the time span and a maximum option of 11 lease sales. The plan ruled out any lease sales in the Atlantic or Pacific, mainly proposing Gulf of Mexico sales.

‘We urge the Department to quickly release a full five-year oil and gas leasing program that includes all eleven proposed sales and promptly take action to hold these sales without interruption,’ Gonzalez and the other lawmakers wrote. 

‘Following through on its Congressionally mandated obligations as passed in the IRA is the only way to ensure offshore wind energy has a clear path to leasing, permitting, development, and production,’ they added. ‘This means holding oil and gas lease sales under a robust, timely, and functioning five-year program as well.’

The delay in issuing a finalized plan represents a departure from precedent set by both Republican and Democratic administrations, which have historically finalized replacements immediately after previous plans expired. The option to hold no lease sales over the course of five years also represents an unprecedented departure. 

The most recent two plans, both formulated under the Obama administration, included more than 10 offshore oil and gas lease sales each. The Trump administration sought to hold a total of 47 lease sales across the Atlantic, Pacific, and Gulf of Mexico and off Alaska’s coasts between 2022 and 2027.

‘NOIA expresses our gratitude towards Congressman Gonzalez and his fellow Members of Congress for pushing for the timely completion of the next federal offshore oil and gas leasing program,’ National Ocean Industries Association President Erik Milito said in a statement Thursday.

‘The reinstatement of consistent and predictable offshore oil and gas lease sales is paramount, safeguarding against potential disruptions to future offshore wind opportunities during this pivotal juncture for the industry,’ Milito continued. ‘Sound energy policy stands as a cornerstone of our nation’s prosperity and should always serve as a unifying issue.’

The DOI is expected to propose its five-year offshore leasing plan in the coming weeks and finalize it either later this year or early next year.

In addition to Gonzalez, Reps. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, Lizzie Fletcher, D-Texas, Jim Costa, D-Calif., Marc Veasey, D-Texas, and Mary Peltola, D-Alaska, signed the letter. The letter was sent to Interior Secretary Deb Haaland and copied to Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm and White House Deputy Chief of Staff John Podesta among others.

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