Interior Secretary Deb Haaland ventured out West last week to discuss a multitude of important issues the region is facing, including whether or not to pack up the Bureau of Land Management’s headquarters in Grand Junction, Colo. and send staff back to Washington, D.C. What was not on the agenda was the federal leasing program – although that didn’t prevent Coloradans from bringing it up.
After all, as a recent Wall Street Journal editorial explains, the oil and gas development on federal lands is of significant importance to the West and even a “de facto ban would devastate Western states with large amounts of federal land since they share royalty payments with the feds.” Despite this, as WSJ reports:
“The review still isn’t done, and Interior still hasn’t announced leasing sales despite federal Judge Terry Doughty’s ruling that the pause violated the law.
“Ms. Haaland’s line has been that the department needs to complete its review of the program first, though the judge held otherwise. Attorneys for energy producers say the government could be held in contempt of court if it doesn’t announce new sales soon.
“Asked Thursday during a visit to Colorado about her department’s review, Ms. Haaland replied: ‘We’re still working on it’ and ‘it’ll come very soon, and once that is out, we can address issues moving forward, any of the reforms that are being recommended.’ She added: ‘We promised early summer. It’s early summer.’ But summer days are drifting away.”
This week, Secretary Haaland is back in D.C. and facing a Senate Energy and Natural Resources hearing on the Interior’s budget, where it’s highly likely the federal leasing program and the promised “early summer” draft review of it will feature prominently yet again.
Here are a few important things to keep an eye out for this week:
Will Interior’s draft report release Monday?
That’s not a far-fetched concept.
Recall the last time Secretary Haaland appeared before a Senate Committee to discuss Interior’s budget, Sen. John Tester (D-MT) was adamant that he wanted to see the report “out in the next month.” That exchange was on June 16, just a day after a federal judge ordered the Interior Department to resume lease sales, granting an injunction request from the attorney general of Louisiana and 12 others including Sen. Tester’s home state of Montana.
That month has already passed, but Interior has yet to publish its draft report or comply with the court order.
Tuesday, Secretary Haaland will once again go before a Senate committee to discuss the department’s budget. While Sen. Tester isn’t on the Energy and Natural Resources committee, nine of the 20 members represent states that have filed lawsuits against the administration or Interior for the illegal ban, including fellow Montanan Sen. Steve Daines (R).
Notably, Sens. Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-MS) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) also questioned Secretary Haaland on the leasing program at the June hearing and both sit on the Senate ENR Committee.
In other words, it’s a realistic possibility that the secretary could request the draft report is published ahead of her appearance on the Hill.
Senators will be pressing hard for answers.
In Denver, Secretary Haaland assured Coloradans, including Sen. John Hickenlooper (D-CO) who sits on Senate ENR, that the report would be published “very, very soon” echoing the department’s tagline since March that it would come in “early summer” and emphasizing that by Interior’s timeline, “It’s early summer.”
Most Americans would probably disagree with that definition of early summer, but regardless, the department’s inaction on the leasing program and vague responses to questions about it are likely to be challenged during the budget hearing.
That’s especially true if the report is not released or if the report is published but resuming lease sales is not addressed prior to the hearing. As Sen. Tester said to Secretary Haaland:
“As this review rolls on, a leasing pause gives folks in the oil and gas industry a lot of uncertainty. It’s getting harder and harder to extend that trust without hard information in the review.”
That uncertainty has left Americans more than ready for answers, and hopefully this will be the week when Interior finally gives them.
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