House Energy Bills Would Unleash Fracking Free-for-All on Public Lands
Now that House Republicans have moved beyond closing national parks, stalling environmental safeguards and canceling research in places like Antarctica with the government shutdown, they’re scheduled to pass three wildly misguided energy bills.
These bills, H.R. 1900, H.R. 1965 and H.R. 2728, would give industry complete control over federal lands, and shut down the public’s voice. Worse yet, they would actually force development on precious lands in such places as the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska. Already the White House has threatened to veto two of the bills.
Even stalwart supporters of fossil fuel development should be taken aback by the overreaching nature of these bills. We strongly urge Americans to call on their elected representatives to vote no on this terrible trio, for the good of our country’s natural resources and to protect the right of public engagement. Let’s take a closer look at why.
The first bill, H.R. 1965, is sponsored by Rep. Lamborn (R-CO). This would direct that federal lands be managed for the primary purpose of energy development, rather than for stewardship balancing multiple uses including recreation. Astonishingly, it also would curb and then penalize the public for raising concerns about oil and gas projects on public lands that may affect them.
One provision pushes the Interior Department to open up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas exploration if the State of Alaska supplies matching funds to carry out an exploration program.
Another would lead to rubber-stamping drilling permits before fully considering safety and environmental concerns. It sets arbitrary deadlines for the federal Bureau of Land Management to approve drilling permits and automatically approves them after 60 days.
Citizens who feel they may be adversely affected by oil and gas lease sales or permitting decisions would have to pay an arbitrary $5,000 fee just to file an appeal. This is a gross abuse of power, closing the courthouse door particularly on voices of minorities and other local community members trying to improve responsible management of public lands.
Also, in several ways, the bill undermines responsible management of the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska. It would toss out an existing National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska Integrated Activity Plan, which was approved after 400,000 Americans, including Alaskans, sportsmen and scientists weighed in, and instead orders the use of an alternative allowing new drilling in the Reserve’s five designated “Special Areas,” which are valued for wildlife habitat and native subsistence.
Finally, H.R. 1965 would jump-start development of a dirty fuel—oil shale—on public lands by requiring the use of a discredited Bush Administration oil shale leasing program. And it would abolish the Bureau of Land Management’s new oil and gas policy that aims to balance development with protection of public lands.
The second bill, H.R. 2728, is sponsored by Rep. Flores (R-TX). It would overturn decades of precedent to undermine protection of federal lands with the goal of promoting fracking for oil and natural gas.
It basically puts states in charge of fracking on federal lands within that state’s borders. And it tells the Department of Interior, charged with managing federal lands wisely for future generations, to butt out. The bill prevents Interior from enforcing any federal standards on hydraulic fracturing if a state has any rules or even vague guidance for fracking. The unstated purpose: give control to whichever level of government is least likely to protect the public, and it undermines the whole principle of governance for federal lands.
It also could lead to barring federal oversight of fracking-related activities on federal lands, including toxic waste management, clean water protection and other important regulatory responsibilities.
The bill needlessly interferes with an Environmental Protection Agency scientific study of the impacts of fracking on drinking water resources without providing the agency with the funds it would need.
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission would have only one year to consider a completed permit application for a pipeline, despite the fact that such projects often are complicated, risky and take longer to evaluate. Other agencies would have only three months to sign off on associated permits required by the Clean Water Act and Clean Air Act.
If federal agencies didn’t meet the deadlines, a pipeline would automatically be approved. That would set up inevitable disasters down the road.
These bills don’t make sense. They are not safe or environmentally wise. They’re not the direction America should go to meet our energy needs in the twenty-first century.
Visit EcoWatch’s ENERGY page for more related news on this topic.
By Karen L. Smith-Janssen
Colette Pichon Battle gave a December 2019 TEDWomen Talk on the stark realities of climate change displacement, and people took notice. The video racked up a million views in about two weeks. The attorney, founder, and executive director of the Gulf Coast Center for Law & Policy (GCCLP) advocates for climate justice in communities of color. Confronted with evidence showing how her own South Louisiana coastal home of Bayou Liberty will be lost to flooding in coming years, the 2019 Obama Fellow dedicates herself to helping others still reeling from the impacts of Katrina face the heavy toll that climate change has taken—and will take—on their lives and homelands. Her work focuses on strengthening multiracial coalitions, advocating for federal, state, and local disaster mitigation measures, and redirecting resources toward Black communities across the Gulf South.
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"These are not just wildfires, they are climate fires," Jay Inslee, Governor of Washington State, said as he stood amid the charred remains of the town of Malden west of Seattle earlier this month. "This is not an act of God," he added. "This has happened because we have changed the climate of the state of Washington in dramatic ways."
'These Aren't Wildfires'<p>Sam Ricketts, who led climate policy and strategy for Governor Jay Inslee's 2020 presidential campaign, tweeted on September 11 that "These aren't wildfires. These are #climatefires, driven by fossil fuel pollution."</p><p>"The rate and the strength and the devastation wrought by these disasters are fueled by climate change," Ricketts told DW of fires that have burnt well over 5 million acres across California, Oregon, Washington State, and into neighboring Idaho. </p><p>In a two-day period in early September, Ricketts notes that more of Washington State burned than in almost any entire fire season until now, apart from 2015. </p><p>California, meanwhile, was a tinderbox after its hottest summer on record, with temperatures in Death Valley reaching nearly 130 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the U.S. National Weather Service. It has been reported as the hottest temperature ever measured on Earth.</p>
<div id="29ad9" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="8346fe7350e1371d400097cd48bf45a2"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1306969603180879872" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Drought-parched wetlands in South America have been burning for weeks. https://t.co/pjAKdFcKPg #Pantanal https://t.co/ImN2C5vwcp</div> — NASA Earth (@NASA Earth)<a href="https://twitter.com/NASAEarth/statuses/1306969603180879872">1600440810.0</a></blockquote></div><p>As evidenced by Australia's apocalyptic Black Summer of 2019-2020, fires are burning bigger and for longer, with new records set year-on-year. Right now, Brazil's vast and highly biodiverse Pantanal wetlands are suffering from catastrophic fires.</p>
#climatefires Started in Australia<p>Governor Inslee this month invoked the phrase climate fires for arguably the first time in the U.S., according to Ricketts.</p><p>But the term was also used as fires burnt out of control in Australia in late 2019. In the face of a 2000km (more than 1,200 miles) fire front, and government officials and media who <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/trump-climate-change-denial-emissions-environment-germany-fake-heartland-seibt/a-52688933" target="_blank">played down the link to climate change</a>, Greens Party Senator Sarah Hanson-Young and a friend decided that reference to bushfires was inadequate. </p><p>"We both just said, we've got to start calling them climate fires, that's what they are," the Australian Senator told DW.</p><p>Hanson-Young says scientists have been warning for decades that these would be the effects of global heating. "We've been told these kinds of extreme weather events and destruction is what climate change would look like, and it's right here on our doorstep," she said from her home state of South Australia — where by early September fire warnings had already been issued.</p><p>"Calling them climate fires was making it absolutely crystal clear. It is essential that there's no ambiguity," she said </p><p>Having deliberately invoked the term, Hanson-Young soon started to push it on social media via a #climatefires hashtag. </p>
How to Talk About the Urgency of Global Heating<p>The need to use more explicit language when talking about extreme weather events linked to climate change is part of a broader push to express the urgency of global heating. In 2019, activist Greta Thunberg tweeted that the term "climate change" did not reflect the seriousness of the situation. </p><p>"Can we all now please stop saying 'climate change' and instead call it what it is: climate breakdown, climate crisis, climate emergency, ecological breakdown, ecological crisis and ecological emergency?" she wrote. </p><p>"Climate change has for a long time been talked about as something that is a danger in the future," said Hansen-Young. "But the consequences are already here. When people hear the word crisis, they understand that something has to happen, that action has to be taken."</p><p><span></span>Some terms are now used in public policy, with state and national governments, and indeed the EU Parliament, declaring an official climate emergency in the last year. </p>
Words That Reflect the Science<p>But while the West Coast governors all fervently link the fires to an unfolding climate crisis, U.S. President Donald Trump continues to avoid any reference to climate. In a briefing about the fires, he responded to overtures by Wade Crowfoot, California's Natural Resources Secretary, to work with the states on the climate crisis by stating: "It'll start getting cooler. You just watch." Crowfoot replied by saying that scientists disagreed. Trump rejoined with "I don't think science knows, actually." </p><p>It was reminiscent of the anti-science approach to the coronavirus pandemic within the Trump administration, <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/donald-trump-admits-playing-down-coronavirus-risks/a-54874350" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">at least publicly</a>. Fossil fuel companies are also benefiting from his disavowal of climate science, with the Trump administration having <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/opinion-trumps-paris-climate-accord-exit-isnt-really-a-problem/a-51124958" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">pulled out of the Paris Agreement</a> and reopened fossil fuel infrastructure like the Keystone XL pipeline. </p><p>But the science community has responded, with Scientific American magazine endorsing Trump's Democratic presidential challenger Joe Biden, the first presidential endorsement in its 175-year history. </p><p>Hanson-Young says the use of explicit language like climate fires has also been important in Australia due to the climate denialism of politicians and the press, especially in publications owned by Rupert Murdoch. As fires burnt out much of Australia's southeast coast, they were commonly blamed on arson — a tactic also recently used in the U.S.</p>
Climate Rhetoric Could Help Decide Election<p>The language of climate has begun to influence the U.S. presidential election campaign, with Democratic nominee Joe Biden labelling President Trump a "climate arsonist."</p><p>Biden is touting a robust climate plan that includes a 2050 zero emissions target and a return to the Paris Agreement. Though lacking the ambition of The New Green Deal, it has been front and center of his policy platform in recent days, at a time when five hurricanes are battering the U.S. Gulf Coast while smoke blanketing the West Coast spreads all the way to the East. </p><p>People are experiencing the climate crisis in a visceral way and almost universally relate to the language of an emergency, says Ricketts. "They know something is wrong."</p>
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