ENERGY BRIEFING: Bipartisan Senators Release Land Leasing Bill

A bipartisan pair of senators are unveiling legislation today that would make companies pay more for oil and gas leases on federal lands, a day after the Biden administration began a comprehensive study of whether and how the U.S. sells those rights, Kellie Lunney reports.

Sens. Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.) and Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) are releasing the “Fair Returns for Public Lands Act,” which would increase fees that oil and gas companies pay to lease onshore, including raising the royalty rate to 18.75% from the current 12.5% rate. The bill, which is companion legislation to a Democratic House bill, also would increase the rental rate for such leases and the national minimum bid per acre.

Grassley and former Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) introduced the legislation in the last congressional session.

Rosen said it’s time to update a “broken” oil and gas program that needs to deliver a better return to taxpayers to “fund critical education, infrastructure, and public health projects.”

Grassley said lawmakers should “end this oil company loophole, end the corporate welfare and bring oil leasing into the 21st century.” The onshore oil and gas leasing fee structure has not been updated in decades, and the royalty rate is a century old.

In the House yesterday, Democrats on the Natural Resources Committee’s energy subcommittee made their case for five public lands oil and gas reform bills that propose to increase production royalty rates, eliminate non-competitive leasing, halt methane venting, and other measures, Bobby Magill reports.

Ranking subcommittee member Pete Stauber (R-Minn.) accused Democrats of heeding Biden’s call to halt federal lands oil and gas leasing, and succumbing to left-wing “environmental privilege” as rural areas are harmed by “radical activists” seeking to undermine high-wage jobs in the oil industry.

“Locking up federal lands will not decrease demand for oil and gas,” said Rep. Bruce Westerman (R-Ark.), ranking member of the full committee.

Meanwhile, the Interior Department said it would hold a forum on leasing as it outlined its first formal steps on the review yesterday, roughly six weeks after President Joe Biden ordered the agency to pause selling oil and gas leases. The move responds to appeals from both oil industry leaders and environmentalists who have pressed the administration for clarity on the leasing review, Jennifer A. Dlouhy reports.

Biden’s EPA Pick Set for Senate Vote

The Senate plans a procedural vote today on Michael Regan, Biden’s pick to lead the EPA. The chamber plans a vote after 2:15 p.m. to limit debate on the nomination, which would set up a final vote on confirmation.

If he’s confirmed, Regan will be walking into a beleaguered workplace full of tired, skeptical staffers, current employees say.

For many—but by no means all—EPA staffers, Biden’s election signaled a return to bedrock environmental principles. But they also say they’re not taking the new administration’s promises at face value, and that Regan will have to prove to them that the EPA will follow through.

Morale at the agency has broadly improved since the Trump administration, but many employees are still waiting for management to repudiate a union contract that was put in place during Andrew Wheeler’s tenure and remains in effect, said Nicole Cantello, an EPA attorney in the agency’s Midwest region and president of the American Federation of Government Employees Local 704 in Chicago.

Bloomberg Law spoke with a dozen current EPA employees, who said they’ve seen few signs of change in their day-to-day work lives. Most of the staffers declined to be identified in order to speak freely. Read more from Stephen Lee.

Happening on the Hill

Daines to Delay Senate Vote on Haaland for Interior: Senate Republicans have taken steps to delay the confirmation of Biden’s Interior secretary nominee, citing Deb Haaland’s longstanding opposition to oil and gas development. Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.) and Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.) have put “holds” on the vote, forcing a Senate debate and a procedural vote. That’s a parliamentary step that will delay but is unlikely to prevent Haaland’s eventual confirmation to lead the Interior Department given her support among Democrats and a handful of Republicans. The move underscores deep opposition from many Senate Republicans over the Biden administration’s plans for managing the nation’s federal lands and waters.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) yesterday set a procedural vote on Haaland’ nomination for Thursday, meaning a final confirmation vote will likely come early next week. Read more from Jennifer A. Dlouhy.

Oregon Democrats Aim to Protect Landowners from Eminent Domain: Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley yesterday reintroduced legislation that would make it harder for companies to claim eminent domain on private and state-owned property in the construction of natural gas pipelines, Kellie Lunney reports. Wyden’s bill, the “Landowner Fairness Act,” would strengthen landowners’ rights in eminent domain cases and would direct companies and FERC to provide better and more timely information to affected property owners. Merkley’s “Ending Natural Gas Companies’ Seizure of Land for Export Profits Act” would ban companies from claiming eminent domain on private land to build export pipelines. It also would clarify that the federal government doesn’t have authority to allow companies to employ eminent domain to seize state land for pipelines.

Pennsylvania Lawmakers Ready Mine Cleanup Bill: Reps. Matt Cartwright (D-Pa.) and Glenn Thompson (R-Pa.) will reintroduce a bill today to reauthorize a trust fund that pays for the cleanup of the nation’s $10 billion backlog of abandoned mines that are leaching pollution into soil and water, Stephen Lee reports. The Abandoned Mine Land trust fund, which charges a fee on coal production to pay for cleanup, is set to expire in September. If it’s not extended, the money will dry up almost immediately. Supporters of the trust fund also say it spurs economic growth in hard-hit coal communities. However, mining lobbies, such as the National Mining Association, have long opposed the fee on coal companies.

Today’s Hearings:

  • Rail, Environment: The House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials plans a hearing on rail transportation and economic and environmental progress.
  • Climate Change, Electricity: The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee meets for a hearing on climate change, the electricity sector and economic growth. Witnesses include Franklin Rusco, the director of natural resources and environment-energy issues at the Government Accountability Office; Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti; Xcel Energy Chairman and CEO Ben Fowke; INGAA’s vice president of environment, Sandra Snyder; and James Wood, the director of the Energy Institute at West Virginia University.
  • Water Infrastructure: The House Appropriations Energy and Water Development Subcommittee holds a hearing on innovation and investment in water resources infrastructure.
  • EPA Mission: The House Energy and Commerce Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee meets for a hearing on the Environmental Protection Agency’s mission.

Energy & Natural Resources

Duke Releases Some Climate Lobbying Info: Duke Energy, the largest U.S. utility, released some details of its climate lobbying activities yesterday after an investor pressured the company for more disclosure. In a 10-page report, Duke identified the broad climate-policy positions of eight trade associations of which it is a member, ranging from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to the American Gas Association. In almost all cases, the utility said the associations’ policies were in line with its own goal of achieving net-zero emissions by 2050, but did not detail the particular lobbying activities of those groups. Duke didn’t reveal its direct political activities, either.

The report may fall short of the type of disclosure demanded by Mercy Investment Services, which filed a shareholder resolution seeking information on how Duke’s lobbying aligns with global efforts to fight climate change. Mercy withdrew the resolution in anticipation of receiving the report, according to its website. Read more from Saijel Kishan and Josh Saul.

More Headlines:

Environment & Chemicals

Kerry Sees Rekindled EU Ties on Climate: A renewed alliance between the U.S. and the European Union on climate issues could shift the dynamics of crucial global talks, encouraging China and other major polluters to step up their efforts to reduce emissions, U.S. climate envoy John Kerry said. The new U.S. administration and the 27-nation bloc are tightening links in the fight against global warming in a sign that major international alliances will be key to making a crunch summit this November a success. Kerry arrived in Brussels yesterday and discussed green diplomatic outreach with top European Commission officials.

“Together Europe and the United Statesrepresent two of the largest markets in the world,” he said in an interview. “And if these two markets, represented by their major corporations that sell and do business around the world, are agreeing that this is an urgent priority and we need to address it, we need to address it sensibly.” Read more from Ewa Krukowska.

Former Clinton Aide to Lobby on ESG: Kris Balderston, a former senior aide to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, is joining top lobbying firm ACG as a strategic partner, where he’ll advise the firm and manage its environmental, social, and governance practice, Megan R. Wilson reports. He comes from FleishmanHillard, where he served as the president of global public affairs and general manager of its Washington office. Before that, he worked as the special representative for global partnerships at the Global Partnership Initiative within the Office of the Secretary of State during the Obama administration. He also worked for Clinton in the Senate, serving as her legislative director and then deputy chief of staff. His resume also includes work at the White House, the National Governor’s Association, and the Department of Labor.

Chesapeake Bay Restoration Dataset: Defenders of Wildlife and Chesapeake Conservancy released a dataset that maps ground-mounted collections of solar panels to better understand of how solar is being built across the watershed, the group said in a statement. The preliminary data can be viewed in a web mapping application here. “Using artificial intelligence to map features like solar arrays is a breakthrough for land use management, conservation, and renewable energy,” said Michael Evans, senior conservation data scientist at Defenders of Wildlife.

More Headlines:

With assistance from Megan R. Wilson, Bobby Magill, and Stephen Lee

To contact the reporters on this story: Kellie Lunney in Washington at klunney@bloombergindustry.com; Zachary Sherwood in Washington at zsherwood@bgov.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Giuseppe Macri at gmacri@bgov.com; Michaela Ross at mross@bgov.com

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