Energy & Environment

Manchin blasts Biden energy policies at budget hearing

Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) claimed the Biden administration’s oil and gas leasing policies have “put America’s energy security at risk” during testimony by Interior Secretary Deb Haaland on Thursday. 

In a hearing on the Interior Department’s fiscal 2023 budget request, Manchin pushed back on the administration’s repeated references to the industry’s 9,000 unused leases to explain the energy crisis, arguing the administration has the power to pressure industry to use them. 

“If the administration’s argument is that industry is sitting on these leases … why don’t they do something about it?” Manchin said. “For example, if the concern is that too many leases are not being developed in a timely manner, the department could increase the rental rates over time to provide a financial disincentive against holding leases for speculation alone.” 

Manchin conceded that “new lease sales would not immediately increase production,” but claimed the administration’s focus on current production “puts America’s energy security at risk.” 

The White House said in a March fact sheet that President Biden “is calling on Congress to make companies pay fees on wells from their leases that they haven’t used in years and on acres of public lands that they are hoarding without producing.”

Although Manchin at the time expressed openness to raising leasing fees, he said at the Thursday hearing that he believed the Interior Department could do so without legislation. 

Republicans and the energy industry have blamed soaring gas prices in part on the Biden administration’s policies on oil and gas leasing, including a since-ended freeze on lease sales on public lands. However, the full process of selling leases and drilling takes years and would not provide any immediate relief at the pump for consumers. 

In her testimony, Haaland addressed the Interior Department’s five-year schedule for offshore oil and gas leasing, saying the department will release its proposal by June 30, when the current program expires. 

“The previous Administration stopped work on the new five-year plan in 2018, so there has been a lot to do to catch up. Varying, conflicting litigation has also been a factor,” Haaland said. “As we take this next step, we will follow the science and the law, as we always do.” 

The hearing comes the week after the department canceled three planned lease sales in Alaska’s Cook Inlet and the Gulf of Mexico, citing lack of industry interest and conflicting court rulings, respectively. Separately, a federal court barred the administration from holding a different planned lease sale in the Gulf, which the administration has not appealed. 

Tags Deb Haaland Deb Haaland Joe Biden joe manchin Joe Manchin oil and gas leases President Joe Biden

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