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“Environmentally Racist Horror Show” & “Essential to America"

The U.S. Department of the Interior held its virtual forum on federal oil and gas program this afternoon, and about 600 viewers gathered online to watch the live event. The forum is the first major public event undertaken by the nation’s first Native American Interior Secretary, part of the newly formed Biden Administration.

Throughout the forum, each Interior Department speaker introduced themselves and their personal pronouns, and explained their area of responsibility, followed by a statement that “I recognize the that I live and work within the ancestral lands of the {insert Tribal name} peoples. I acknowledge a knowledge of these peoples and are grateful for ancestral and current stewardship of these lands.”

Invited participants in the forum represented indigenous groups, environmental justice, academia, conservation and labor organizations, and energy industries.

Interior Secretary Deb Haaland gave opening remarks, stating: “Fossil fuels will continue to play a major role in America for years to come. But too often the extraction of resources have been rushed to meet the false urgency of political timetables rather than careful consideration for the impacts of current and future generations. During the past four years, the Trump Administration offered vast swaths of our public lands for drilling, prioritizing fossil fuel development above all other uses in public lands and waters. The potential impacts to people, water, wildlife, and climate, were deliberately ignored, something the courts continue to address. While some corporations profited, taxpayers were short changed, and some American's voices were not heard.”

“The pause on new oil and gas lease sales give us space to look at the federal fossil fuel programs that haven't been meaningfully examined or modernized in decades. I want to be clear that the new oil and gas lease sales does not impact permitting and development on valid existing leases,” Haaland said. “Further, oil and gas companies have amassed thousands of permits to drill on 38 million acres of public lands and oceans – an area larger than the state of Iowa. Today, and over the coming weeks and months, we will look forward to hearing from you about our path forward. We're exploring ideas that leaders from both parties have brought forward to rethink how we manage energy and minerals on our public lands.”

Laura Daniel-Davis, principal deputy assistant secretary for land and minerals management at the Department of the Interior, said: “We are tasked within the framework of Executive Order 14008 to conduct a comprehensive review of federal oil and gas permitting and leasing practices across public lands and in offshore waters. The executive order directs the Department of the Interior to pause oil and gas leasing on public lands and offshore waters as the secretary mentioned, concurrent with this comprehensive review of the federal oil and gas program. The targeted pause, I want to reiterate, does not impact existing operations or permits for valid existing leases, which are continuing to be reviewed and approved, the order does not restrict energy activities on private or state lands, or lands that the United States holds in trust or restricted status for tribes or individual Indians.”

She continued: “The federal oil and gas account for nearly a quarter of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions and are thus a major contributor the climate challenge. Through our review, we're seeking to restore balance on public lands and waters, create jobs, and provide a path that can align the management of America's public lands and waters with our nation's climate, conservation, and clean energy goals.

Mario Atencio from the nonprofit organization Diné CARE (Citizens Against Ruining our Environment) on the Navajo Nation said he joined the forum “from New Mexico, from the occupied lands of the people in Albuquerque, because there's good Internet here, and so I needed to be at this very important meeting.”

Citing an explosion at an oil well in 2016, a 2019 spill of fracking fluids, and lack of a coordinated response to ensure that such events don’t happen again, Atencio explained, “I'm here to say that for far too long, the people in the Eastern Navajo agency have been living an environmentally racist horror show.”

Nicole Borromeo of the Alaska Federation of Natives talked about the need for a shift toward renewal energy to be gradual, as the use of fossil fuels in important for native peoples and native corporations. She explained: “We understand that the earth is changing, the climate is warming, all of that, but it needs to be a measured, thought-out process. We're very concerned that if we just turn the light switch off up here in Alaska and switch from oil and gas over to renewables, that our 200-plus native communities that are reliant on diesel generators, that are essentially on micro grids, they're just not going to be able to step up fast enough for these renewable opportunities. They are also very expensive. We're not sure how they're going to be funded, in extremely remote areas of our state, where it's hard to get federal resources on the ground as it is.”

Frank Macchiarola of American Petroleum Institute opened with, “The United States is now the global leader in both energy production and emissions reductions due in large part to the innovation and commitment of the oil and gas industry,” and hit three major points:

• Oil and gas and natural gas leasing on federal lands and waters provide as broad range of benefits to the American people and a ban on leasing would have harmful consequences.

• The oil and natural gas industry is part of the solution in reducing greenhouse gas emissions

• Refuted claims that the industry is stockpiling leasing and permits.

“The oil and gas industry is essential to America's post-pandemic recovery and long-term economic growth,” Macchiarola said. “Oil and natural gas development on federal lands and waters provide affordable and reliable and cleaner energy, supports millions of good paying jobs, provides billions of dollars to Federal and State Governments and supports conservation efforts across the country.

“In 2019 alone, the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which is funded almost entirely by offshore oil and gas revenues, distributed over $227 million across the country for outdoor recreation and conservation efforts. Policies aimed at slowing or stopping oil and natural gas production also prove harmful to our national security. U.S. energy demand is likely to continue to rise and it's vital that the energy we use is produced right here at home.”

Macchiarola noted that an API-commissioned study found that a long-term leasing and development ban could result in 2 million additional barrels of oil a day being imported to meet needs and nearly one million American jobs lost.

Macciarola noted, “We continue to support the Biden administration's climate goals, and we can do that without banning or curtailing oil and gas development. From 2005 to 2020, EIA reports that energy-related CO2emissions in the US declined by more than 23%. With smart policies, we can help other countries meet their environmental goals such as promoting exports of USLNG, but we can only do it if we utilize our own resources.

“The oil and gas industry is investing billions toward a new innovative technologies to improve environmental performance and further reduce emissions. This includes enhanced monitoring through investments in satellite, drone, and aerial GHG detection technologies. For offshore operations, leak detection measures can include periodic monitoring using optical gas monitoring or other technologies. Because of these efforts, according to USGS, GHG emissions from the production and combustion of oil and natural gas from federal lands accounted for less than 10% of total US GHG emissions.

“Meeting energy demands without production on federal lands and waters only means our imports would increase from countries with weaker environmental standards. It also means we would be reducing US production of natural gas, the single-most effective resource in reducing emissions from the electricity sector. Our study found that forcing a decrease in domestic production of natural gas will likely lead to higher GHG emissions – the opposite effect of the administration's stated goal.”

The forum continues throughout the afternoon and can be watched live at this link.

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