Following up: Here are some of the latest actions on Biden's oil restrictions

Keith Magill
The Courier

Louisiana is already feeling the financial impact of President Joe Biden's indefinite ban on new oil and gas leases on federal lands and waters, area officials say.

U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise, R-Metairie, said the administration's cancelation of last Wednesday's Gulf of Mexico oil lease sale cost the federal and state governments millions of dollars.

"Last year, $200 million-plus came in on these Gulf lease sales," he said. "In 2019, over $400 million just on these lease sales."

Scalise noted that the state's $50 billion, 50-year plan to protect coastal communities from coastal flooding and hurricanes, both of which scientists say is being worsened by climate change, is funded largely by offshore oil revenue.

"So what would have happened today in the Superdome would have generated, on average, $200 (million) to $400 million in that one day, a portion of which would have gone to Louisiana and to these local parishes to do coastal-restoration projects, to fund flood-protection projects," he said. "We're not getting that money because of this change in policy by President Biden."

Scalise was among several officials who spoke in opposition to the oil restrictions during an online news conference Wednesday. Others included Lafourche Parish President Archie Chaisson; Lori LeBlanc, executive director of the Gulf Economic Survival Team; Dwayne Bourgeois, executive director of the North Lafourche Levee District; and Chett Chiasson, executive director of Port Fourchon, the service hub for the Gulf oilfield.

More:Biden administration invites industry groups, environmentalists to air views on oil plans

Biden enacted a 60-day ban Jan. 21 on new oil and gas drilling permits and leases for federal lands and waters, including the Gulf of Mexico. He followed Jan. 27 with an indefinite ban on new leases in the Gulf and on federal lands. 

Officials say the pause is necessary as the administration works to control climate change and its resulting pollution, rising seas and other harmful effects on the nation and world.

Here are some of the latest developments in the ongoing debate.

An industry group is suing to overturn Biden's restrictions

The Western Energy Alliance, which represents more than 200 oil companies in several western states, has filed suit against the Biden administration in U.S. District Court in Wyoming.

The group claims Biden's orders overstep his presidential authority and violate laws in which Congress approved oil and gas production on federal lands and waters.

“The law is clear. Presidents don’t have authority to ban leasing on public lands. All Americans own the oil and natural gas beneath public lands, and Congress has directed them to be responsibly developed on their behalf," Kathleen Sgamma, president of the Alliance, said in a news release. “Biden’s ban is an overreach meant to satisfy the environmental left, but it would seriously harm the livelihoods of tens of thousands of westerners and put at risk millions more as state services become unfunded."

A bill in Congress would do the same

Scalise is co-sponsoring a bill introduced by Rep. Dan Crenshaw, R-Houston, that seeks to overturn Biden's oil restrictions. Louisiana's senators, John Kennedy and Bill Cassidy, both Republicans, are sponsoring an identical bill in the Senate.

The Conservation Funding Protection Act would require at least two area-wide lease sales per year on available acreage in the western and central Gulf.

But Scalise passing the measure would be an uphill fight in the Democratic-controlled Congress. 

President Joe Biden's indefinite ban on new oil leases in the Gulf of Mexico and on federal lands has sparked a lawsuit and continuing debate over jobs, climate change and the economic impact on communities like Terrebonne and Lafourche.

Environmentalists say oil industry concerns are overblown

Conservation groups as well as the Biden administration note that companies stocked up on years' worth of oil and gas leases before Biden was elected president as a hedge against his campaign pledge to permanently ban drilling on federal lands and waters. 

Aaron Rice, deputy director of the Center for Western Priorities, an environmental group whose focus includes the shale fields of the western U.S., shared that sentiment in a March 4 blog post titled "The oil industry is doing fine with a pause on oil leasing — just ask their CEOs."

In it, Rice cites quotes from several oil company CEOs who say Biden's actions should have little impact on drilling over the next few years.

"So if oil companies aren’t actually threatened by the temporary pause on leasing, why do they want the American people to think a pause is so dire," Rice asks. "It’s likely because they know their gravy train is running out of track."

Coupled with falling demand, the actions give the Biden administration time to evaluate the entire leasing program for potentially the biggest overhaul in nearly a century, Rice said. And that could give Congress a chance to increase oil companies' per-barrel payments to the federal government closer to market rates, require firms to pay bonds sufficient to cover the cost of cleanup when drillers go bust and give automakers confidence to announce a transition away from internal-combustion engines as GM did last month.

"That inevitable change is what looms largest over the industry," Rice wrote. "It’s undeniable that the world is facing a climate crisis and that the only way out is to drastically reduce carbon emissions. Taking the time to fully account for the damage caused by oil and gas drilling on public lands is a vital first step in getting to net zero. During this transition, America will need to help oil-dependent communities and workers find their place in the rapidly growing renewable energy industry. But in the short term, the oil industry’s crocodile tears over public lands shouldn’t fool anyone."

Local communities brace for impact

One of those oil-dependent communities is Houma-Thibodaux, something Lafourche Parish President Archie Chaisson emphasized during Wednesday's news conference. He and others in the Oil Patch have decried the Biden administration's pledge to help oil workers transition to jobs producing cleaner energy as overly simplistic.

He cited state data showing nearly 14,000 people work in the oilfield and shipbuilding industries in Terrebonne and Lafourche. Chaisson estimated the industry pays taxes that amount to about 15% of Lafourche government's budget, about $15 million a year.

"But it's the second part of the numbers that scares me the most, and that is the trickle-down economics, the essential hardware stores or gas stations and all the local businesses that are going to lose business should these new lease sales not occur," he said.

Chett Chiasson, the port's director, said the industry wants to work with Biden to curb greenhouse emissions and deal with climate change.

"We understand that there is and will continue to be a transition toward renewable energy to meet our nation's energy needs," Chiasson said. "But such a transition must be smart, calculated, reasonable and realistic."