'Not a crisis': Panel hosts heated debate on climate bill

Legislation to pause public land fossil fuel permits and leases prompted heated exchanges during a hearing Tuesday

September 21, 2022

Legislation to tether oil and gas drilling on public lands to national climate targets sparked a fight Tuesday over whether climate change is a "crisis."

A Natural Resources subcommittee met to probe the "Public Lands and Waters Climate Leadership Act of 2022," H.R. 8802, from Chair Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.).

The bill would have the Interior Department and the Forest Service to suspend coal, oil and gas leasing and permitting while the agencies develop a strategy to align fossil fuel development on public lands with the Biden administration’s climate goals — such as cutting national greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2030 (E&E Daily, Sept. 14).

At one point in the hearing, Rep. Jared Huffman (D-Calif.) accused Republicans of making tortured arguments against the legislation — and broader, strong climate action — to protect fossil fuels.

"All of the science relating to our climate tell us we have a crisis," Huffman said, stressing the problem was "driven primarily by the burning of fossil fuels" and unless humans act "we may well have an unlivable planet."

Kenny Stein, policy director for the Institute for Energy Research, shot back.

"It is not a crisis," said Stein. "The Earth is not becoming uninhabitable, and it will not become uninhabitable.”

Stein, whose group often advocates for fossil fuels, accused Huffman of being "extreme," adding, "I think humanity is more than capable of adapting.”

Andrew Dessler, professor at Texas A&M University and director of the Texas Center for Climate Studies, said "adaptation" was code for allowing “enormous” amounts of human suffering.

“What the science clearly shows us is that the Earth is warming, humans are to blame for the warming, and the magnitude of future warming is going to be extremely large," he said.

'Long-term approach'

Energy and Mineral Resources Subcommittee Chair Alan Lowenthal (D-Calif.) said the legislation would help agencies shift public lands from being a major source of greenhouse gas emissions to a climate change remedy.

“Our public lands and oceans can and must be a solution to climate. But right now, they're still a substantial source of carbon pollution,” he said, adding that the bill "advances a long-term approach to managing oil, gas and coal development over the coming years in a manner that helps us transition towards a clean energy future and stave off climate disaster.”

Ranking member Pete Stauber said the bill would drive up energy prices and weaken the nation’s energy stability. The Minnesota lawmaker dismissed the bill as a reaction to the recently enacted Inflation Reduction Act.

The climate package includes sweeteners to ensure ongoing federal land leasing. Those provisions were put forward by Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chair Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) as a prerequisite for his support.

“Clearly Democrats need to toss a bone to the most radical, anti-American energy supporters after holding their noses and voting with Sen. Manchin," Stauber said.

'Sledgehamer' vs. 'pause'

Grijalva accused the GOP of changing tactics from outright denial of climate change to a strategy of delay. Such delays, he said, would punt on the type of planning laid out in H.R. 8802 to reconsider how public lands are used for energy production.

Asked by Grijalva if renewables enjoy the same access on federal lands as oil and gas, Solar Energy Industries Association president Abigail Ross Hopper said traditional industries have far more advantages.

“We do not have an even playing field,” said Hopper, who served as director of the Interior Department Bureau of Ocean Energy Management during the Obama administration. “They're much [more] well-resourced, much better staffed, [with] much more historical competency in the agencies, and much more land available for development.”

Louisiana Republican Rep. Garret Graves called the proposal “a sledgehammer” to pummel energy development. The top Republican on the Select Committee on the Climate Crisis, Graves said the bill would only push the U.S. towards energy reliance on unfriendly nations.

Lowenthal characterizing the bill as a short-term pause with a long-term goal.

"It's true that once the bill becomes law, there's going to be a pause on issuing fossil fuel permits and holding fossil fuel lease sales," he said. “However, the purpose of that is to give the Interior Department and the Forest Service time to develop strategy."

By:  Heather Richards
Source: E&E News