The bipartisan Western Governors’ Association is asking that it be consulted as the Interior Department reviews the suspended federal oil and gas leasing program, and is voicing concern about the potential job impacts should western energy development be shifted elsewhere.
Oregon Gov. Kate Brown, a Democrat who is the association’s chair, and Idaho Gov. Brad Little, a Republican and the vice chair, addressed the subject Monday in a letter to President Joe Biden. They were responding to the 60-day suspension the Interior Department issued on Jan. 20 on new leases and permits, unless authorized by top-level Interior officials, and Biden’s subsequent issuance of an indefinite moratorium on leasing pending a comprehensive review and reconsideration of federal oil and gas permitting and leasing practices. The review is to include a look at whether to adjust royalties charged for coal, oil and gas extraction from public lands and waters or consider other action “to account for corresponding climate costs,” Biden’s order says.
The lease moratorium was part of a broad executive order by Biden addressing climate concerns, through measures such as seeking to conserve 30% of U.S. lands and oceans by 2030, eliminating fossil fuel subsidies and working to spur clean-energy technologies and infrastructure.
In asking for consultation, Brown and Little wrote, “We are eager to work with the Administration on policies that involve energy development and use in the West, while protecting the environment, wildlife, and natural resources, as expressed in” a 2018 Western Governors’ Association policy resolution on energy in the West.
The two said there is “a robust energy sector in western states that is a valuable contributor to the economic vitality of many states and the energy security of our nation. Our states have taken a lead role in reducing the environmental effects of energy production activities while preserving this vital economic sector. We look forward to working with your Administration to ensure continued progress in enacting strict environmental standards, requiring accountability from energy developers, and working closely with the energy industry to develop cleaner energy solutions.”
They said oil and gas and renewable energy production in the West, including on public lands, supports thousands of jobs and rural small businesses, “many of which are already struggling from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on energy use.” They also pointed to federal royalties that energy production on federal lands generates for entities including state and local governments, funding everything from education to conservation and environmental measures.
Brown and Little then say, “Climate change mitigation and adaptation strategies that rely on federal land disproportionately affect western states, given the high percentage of federal lands in western states. We do not want to see a shift of jobs and energy activity to other states or nations that may not have enacted the strong environmental standards adopted by many western states.”
Brown’s comments supportive of western energy development are notable in that state agencies in Oregon have denied permits for the proposed Jordan Cove liquefied natural gas export project there, and Brown has said it shouldn’t go forward without meeting the state’s standards for environmental protection. If approved, the project could provide an outlet to Asian markets for gas produced in the Rockies, including western Colorado’s Piceance Basin.
Colorado Gov. Jared Polis is a member of the Western Governors’ Association. When Biden’s climate order was announced, Polis said in a statement that “National progress on moving to cleaner, less expensive cars and cleaner energy is good for America and good for Colorado.” He also said the state will work with the Biden administration as it begins its review “of energy development policy on public lands to ensure that it works for Colorado. And as long as the review is completed expeditiously we don’t expect an economic impact in the short-term with current market factors and the many existing unused leases and permits.”
Kathleen Sgamma, president of the Western Energy Alliance oil and gas group, which has sued over the lease moratorium, said in a news release about the Brown/Little missive, “It’s encouraging to see a bipartisan letter that reflects the balance achieved in the West among various energy sources while protecting the environment. Western governors are practical leaders who understand that a one-size-fits-all leasing ban issued from Washington is not the way to govern effectively, but simply disadvantages the West. The presidential decree does not change the energy that all Americans use, but merely shifts production to other areas of the country without significant public lands.”