Dozens of Senate Republicans are supporting a bill introduced by Sen. Cyntha Lummis (R-Wyo.) that would prohibit the president and certain other federal departments from blocking energy or mineral leasing permits on federal lands without congressional scrutiny.
The Protecting our Wealth of Energy Resources (POWER) Act of 2021 (pdf), supported by at least half of Senate Republicans, would stop the president or the secretaries of the interior, agriculture, and energy departments from blocking energy or mineral leasing and permitting on federal lands and waters without congressional approval.
“As America continues to recover from a global pandemic, our energy industry desperately needs the Biden administration’s support, not its scorn. We must work to prevent any administration from crippling our energy industry without approval from Congress,” Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) said in a statement.
“I am proud to support this legislation that will fight back against the Biden administration’s radical environmental agenda and help our energy industry thrive by supporting hundreds of thousands of blue-collar jobs, keeping household energy costs low for American families, and maintaining our energy independence.”
Another 23 GOP Republicans backed the measure, which comes after President Joe Biden signed an executive order on Wednesday that, in part, puts a halt on new mining and energy leasing on federal lands.
The Department of the Interior had on Jan. 21, just a day after Biden assumed office, moved to suspend new leases for oil and gas drilling on federal lands for 60 days, but Biden’s Wednesday executive order means the suspension will remain until a review is completed by the secretary of agriculture, the secretary of commerce, through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the secretary of energy.
That review will “consider whether to adjust royalties associated with coal, oil, and gas resources extracted from public lands and offshore waters, or take other appropriate action, to account for corresponding climate costs,” the order states.
Lummis, prior to releasing the bill in response to Biden’s order, had criticized the president’s action as destructive for jobs and the economy in her home state and in the nation. In a statement Friday, she reiterated her message.
“The Biden Ban would be nothing short of catastrophic for western states that are already reeling from the decline in energy usage brought on by the pandemic and continued volatility in energy markets,” she said in a statement. “It’s a one-two punch that means disaster for energy jobs, families, and communities. Through the POWER Act, Congress would reiterate that federal lands should serve not the whims of a radical progressive minority, but the needs of all Americans.”
Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) said in a statement that the proposed POWER Act of 2021 “creates a needed check on the Executive Branch, and makes certain that decisions like this are subject to debate in Congress and not rashly signed into action.”
“We must continue to advocate for the families across America who are at risk of losing their livelihood and income in the middle of a pandemic,” she added.
Biden said on Wednesday that his administration has a “concrete” plan to address the impending job losses looming for the industry by creating “more than a quarter million jobs to do things like plug the millions of abandoned oil and gas wells” that pose a health and safety threat to communities.
“They’re abandoned wells that are open now, and we’re going to put people to work. They’re not going to lose jobs in these areas; they’re going to create jobs,” Biden said. It is unclear from his remarks how the government plans to pay for the proposed health and safety works.
While both Republicans and Democrats from fossil fuel-dependent states have been critical of Biden’s pledges to limit or halt the use of fossil fuels, other mostly Democratic lawmakers and progressives have praised the president’s actions, which they believe are in the name of helping save the planet from an impending crisis posed by climate change.
John Kerry, former secretary of state under the Obama-Biden administration and now Biden’s top environmental policy adviser, said on Wednesday that Biden wants to make sure workers in the energy industry “have better choices” in jobs that “pay better” and are “cleaner,” giving the example of being a solar power technician instead of being a miner.
Kerry also asserted that it’s a false notion that “dealing with climate” comes at the expense of energy workers. He added that there is “a lot of money to be made” in the creation of new “healthier” jobs in sectors such as green hydrogen, geothermal heat, and other renewables.
But Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) noted on Thursday that a study (pdf) by energy consulting firm OnLocation concluded that a leasing and development ban on federal land and waters would mean the loss of nearly 1 million jobs by 2022. The decision could also mean that U.S. households could spend a cumulative $19 billion more on energy by 2030, according to the study.
Biden’s decision on halt oil and natural gas development on public lands has received other forms of backlash since Wednesday.
The administration has been sued by Western Energy Alliance, a group representing fossil fuel producers on federal lands. The group said that the president has exceeded his authority in signing the order.
Since assuming office, Biden has also suspended the Keystone XL oil pipeline and rejoined the Paris Climate Accord, decisions he says are in the best interest of the nation to care for the environment and tackle climate change.
Masooma Haq and Melanie Sun contributed to this report.