By Thomas Catenacci
- While President Joe Biden’s administration has repeatedly delayed and blocked new federal oil and gas leasing, environmental groups and lawmakers noted the importance of the program to sustain conservation efforts.
- “When you don’t have lease sales, you’re taking money away from the Gulf Coast states for coastal resiliency, you’re taking money away from inner city parks and recreation programs, you’re taking money away from national park maintenance, you’re taking money away from conservation efforts under the Land and Water Conservation Fund,” National Ocean Industries Association President Erik Milito told the Daily Caller News Foundation.
- A bipartisan bill passed in 2020 permanently funds the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which environmentalists have characterized as the most important federal conservation program, using primarily offshore oil and gas lease revenue.
President Joe Biden’s climate policy — which has led to major delays to the federal oil and gas leasing program — may hamper key bipartisan conservation programs.
Shortly after taking office in January 2021, Biden ordered the Department of the Interior (DOI) to pause all new oil and gas leasing on federal lands and waters and initiate a review of the program’s climate impacts. While the moratorium was halted by a federal court in June, the administration has continued to delay and drag its feet on both onshore and offshore leasing.
In its budget proposal released Monday, the DOI suggested that no new offshore lease sales would occur until at least October 2023. The most recent offshore lease sale occurred during the Trump administration.
“The president has repeatedly said his administration is using every tool at its disposal to address rising energy costs and, recently, the administration began acknowledging for the first time the need for more American oil and gas production,” Frank Macchiarola, the American Petroleum Institute’s (API) senior vice president of policy, economics and regulatory affairs, said during a press briefing this week.
“The Biden administration’s lack of progress on offshore leasing is a clear example of the large gap between rhetoric and reality,” he added. (RELATED: Biden Admin Appears To Quietly Discontinue Offshore Leasing For Nearly Two Years, Budget Shows)
But the funds raised through oil and gas leases, and which would dry up were the leasing program to keep stalling, are fundamental for large conservation programs environmentalists say are essential.
For example, the Great American Outdoors Act, a bipartisan bill that former President Donald Trump signed into law in 2020, appropriated $900 million in permanent funds annually to the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) which Congress previously had to fund periodically. The annual funding is primarily raised through offshore oil and gas leasing.
“The Land and Water Conservation Fund is America’s best conservation tool,” Brent Keith, the senior policy director at The Nature Conservancy, told the Daily Caller News Foundation. “For over half a century, forests, open spaces, watersheds and other landscapes in every state have been conserved thanks to the fund.”
“That funding comes from royalties on existing oil and gas drilling on the Outer Continental Shelf,” he added. “Every year, revenues from existing lease production far exceed the amounts needed for the full funding of LWCF.”
The National Wildlife Federation credited the LWCF with successfully protecting hundreds of species including the Florida panther, Mississippi sandhill crane, caribou and Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep “at no cost to taxpayers.” (RELATED: Oil Industry Report Warns Of Massive Job Losses From Biden’s Anti-Drilling Agenda)
In addition to the LWCF, the 2006 Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act similarly authorized hundreds of millions of dollars of federal offshore oil and gas revenue per year to four states — Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas — for “coastal conservation, restoration, and hurricane protection.” In 2021, the program gave $35.1 million to Alabama, $109.9 million to Louisiana, $36.5 million to Mississippi and $67.4 million to Texas.
The federal government provides another $150 million of offshore lease revenue to the Historic Preservation Fund (HPF), which helps preserve historic resources, every year.
LWCF funding, though, could alone decline by up to $420 million a year if the offshore leasing delay persists, according to a report from the National Ocean Industries Association (NOIA) and API published this week.
“Revenues that come from offshore oil and gas development are a primary funding source for the Land and Water Conservation Fund,” NOIA President Erik Milito previously told the DCNF. “That’s outdoor recreation and park maintenance, national park funding — that all comes from offshore oil and gas revenues. There’s also money under the Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act, that comes from offshore revenues, for coastal resiliency and restoration to address climate impacts.”
“So, when you don’t have lease sales, you’re taking money away from the Gulf Coast states for coastal resiliency, you’re taking money away from inner city parks and recreation programs, you’re taking money away from national park maintenance, you’re taking money away from conservation efforts under the Land and Water Conservation Fund,” Milito said. “All that money isn’t available anymore.”
Rebekah Hoshiko, a spokesperson for House Natural Resources Committee Ranking Member Bruce Westerman, said committee Republicans were concerned about ongoing onshore and offshore leasing program delays’ impact on conservation funding.
“Even a brief pause in oil and gas production has significant impacts on the revenue needed to fund these important conservation programs,” Hoshiko told the DCNF in an email. (RELATED: Biden Administration’s Offshore Oil Leasing Policy Will Crush American Energy Security, Experts Say)
A group of more than 60 House Republicans led by Westerman urged Interior Secretary Deb Haaland and Bureau of Ocean Energy Management Director Amanda Lefton to immediately resume the offshore leasing program in a letter on March 9.
The office of Natural Resources Chairman Raul Grijalva, the committee’s top Democrat, didn’t respond to a request for comment from the DCNF.
States also rely heavily on the federal onshore oil and gas leasing program to fund operations, education and local governments, according to the Congressional Research Service. About half of federal onshore revenue is given to the state where a given lease was awarded, alone funding 10.95% of New Mexico’s budget and 7.78% of Wyoming’s budget.