This week, Biden’s Interior Secretary Deb Haaland appeared before a U.S. Senate committee, where she crashed and burned in attempts to answer straightforward questions by Republican and Democrat senators.
Sen. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana asked Haaland, “Is it more environmentally friendly to develop and produce oil and gas” in the U.S. or in foreign countries, like Venezuela?
Haaland attempted to shift the question about “workers,” but Cassidy pressed her to respond to the question with a straightforward answer.
She replied, “I’m not an economist.”
In multiple instances, when answering questions, Haaland’s staffers wrote notes to her to help her struggle through her testimony.
Sen. James Lankford (R-OK) asked her, “On June the 30th, there is a release of a proposal. There will be a comment period and everything else on offshore. When is the earliest we could actually start leasing?”
Haaland struggled, with lots of “uhs” and “ums.” She added, “I don’t have… I mean, I don’t think there’s an actual deadline.”
Lankford responded, “That’s the concern, actually, that all of us have. Is that there’s actually no deadline. That the proposal to talk about it is coming on the date that it should be done and taht this is going to stretch out to the next two or three years of talking about it. And so, we’re trying to figure out when’s the deadline to actually start leasing.”
Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) asked, “Does [Biden] want to continue the oil and gas leasing moratorium?” adding, “Would you advise [Biden] to reinstate the oil and gas leasing moratorium?”
“There was a pause; there wasn’t a moratorium. There isn’t a moratorium now,” said Haaland.
Lee responded, “Just last week, the Department [of the Interior] canceled three scheduled auctions that would have opened up space in Alaska’s Cook Inlet and the Gulf of Mexico for energy production. Now, a couple of interesting things about this. Gina McCarthy, the White House Climate Advisor, told a CBS reporter that an offshore lease sale had been canceled. She did so before the cancellation was even made public. Did you authorize Ms. McCarthy to make that statement?”
Haaland responded, “I don’t believe that I spoke with Ms. McCarthy that day.”
Lee added, “Just last month, Ms. Mccarthy also told MSNBC that … Biden remains absolutely committed to not moving forward with additional drilling on public lands. Do you agree with Ms. McCarthy as to that statement, yes or no?”
She responded, “Senator, I am working to lead the Department of the Interior…”
Lee jumped in, “I get that, but do you agree with that statement or not?”
“I don’t know,” said Haaland.
“Your answer is that you don’t know. Perfectly legitimate answer, I suppose, but troubling in some ways. Now, with respect to the Cook Inlet lease, which was canceled, your department at the Department of the Interior cited a ‘lack of industry interest’ in that lease. Now, it seems to me that industry interest cannot be reasonably gauged or gauged at all until the extent or the value of the actual bids are made clear. So, does this mean you’re going to force companies to tip their hand, show their cards every time they want to pursue a leasing opportunity?”
Haaland added, “Well, I think it’s our job to make sure that we are reaching out to companies that we’re gauging their interest by speaking with them,” adding, “If there is no interest, then it doesn’t make sense to move forward.”
Lee went on to ask about leases in other areas. “In January, a federal judge invalidated Lease Sale 257 based on … the Department of the Interior doing insufficient environmental analysis. Now, you chose not to appeal that decision, so none of those leases will be awarded or drilled. As I look at this, and as a longtime appellate lawyer, I suspect that [there are] likely one of two expectations for this: Either you were happy with the result, you liked the result, or alternatively, you knew the environmental work your department had done on this was sloppy. So, which was it?”
She responded, “Well, what I could say about that is that our solicitors consult with the Department of Justice on these issues, and they make the determination on whether an appeal should take place.”
Lee concluded, “We have a department that is determined to not allow oil and gas leasing. They’ve hiked royalties. They have taken things out of eligibility for leasing. This is coming to a great expense to the American people, who are paying dearly for it. The American people deserve better.”
Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), the chairman of the Senate Energy Committee, said, “The Department of the Interior just put out a statement, and the statement basically says that ‘a proposed program is not a decision to issue specific leases or to authorize any drilling or development.’ This is y’alls office. So it looks like you’re going to shut everything down. Did you all know you put this out?”
Haaland responded, “I am sorry. I am sitting in this hearing, and not…”
“My God, somebody… this shuts it down. It shows what your intent is.” He added, “Basically it says, Sec. Haaland provides updates on [the] offshore leasing program during Senate testimony. During testimony before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Sec. of the Interior Deb Haaland confirmed that despite delays in implementation from the previous administration, the Interior Department will release the proposed program, the next step in the five-year offshore energy planning process by June 30, 2022, which is the expiration of the current program. A proposed program is not a decision to issue specific leases or to authorize any drilling or development. So they’re going to do the proposal, but it doesn’t guarantee they are going to do any leasing at all.”
Haaland responded, “I believe what that is saying is that it’s the plan that’s coming out.”
Manchin clapped back, “I think What you’re prefacing it by saying after you’re acknowledging the plan. You’ll have a plan by June 30th. But you went further to say that doesn’t mean that you’re issuing any specific leases. If you have a plan, you should have; I mean, we’ve never done this. This is history. We’ve never done that before, not issue leases if you put a plan out. The plan has always been a long-term five-year plan to lease.
Haaland said, “I don’t believe that is saying that we’re not going to do any of those things. I think it is saying that we’re putting the plan out…”
Manchin added, “The time is not right. You all have taken as long as you possibly could” to put out the plan on oil and gas leases.