U.S. Energy Dominance is Back!! Or, Maybe It Never Left?

The White House announced last Friday that it was re-opening federal lands and waters to new applications for fossil fuel mining and drilling. In a move roundly criticized by climate activists and scientists, the Biden Administration is reversing itself on one of its biggest 2020 campaign pledges and earliest executive orders: a moratorium on new public lands oil and gas leases.

This matters to rural America for a lot of reasons, including:

  1. The vast majority of public lands drilling and mining happens in rural places.
  2. Mining and drilling on our federal public lands are responsible for nearly 25% of our national CO2 pollution. More mining and drilling leases makes reducing climate pollution more difficult.
  3. Many rural jobs and regional economies are dependent upon this extraction, though that number of jobs is often thought to be much larger than is the reality.
  4. Mining and drilling activities also regularly create rural environmental sacrifice zones that impact public health and pollute local air and water long after operations shut down. A recent example is this in-depth look at abandoned, un-reclaimed coal mines in Eastern Kentucky.

Oil and gas lease reform advocates did win an increase in royalty rates, something they’ve been seeking for decades.

“We appreciate Interior’s efforts to adjust the federal oil and gas leasing program, as reflected in their recent announcement of resumed lease sales,” said Bob LeResche, a Powder River Basin Resource Council board member from Clearmont, Wyoming. “It’s high time to halt the underpriced giveaway of federal lands and mineral resources and reframe leasing to better serve American taxpayers, state treasuries, public land users, and the millions of citizens suffering accelerating harm from climate change.”

On balance, having covered federal lands leasing in rural communities for going on six years now, I have to say that Biden’s back-tracking seems like a political cave-in to the Republicans who have been taunting him with claims about “shutting down the entire domestic energy supply” and “ending U.S. energy dominance.” These are lies, of course. Energy production in the U.S., both from fossil fuels and from clean energy sources, expanded during Biden’s first year, just like it did under Obama from 2009 through 2016.

I understand that politicians are feeling the heat, searching for anything they can do right now to “reduce prices at the pump.” Inflation is real, and the impacts are felt deepest by those of us in the working class. But I’d still rather see Congress and the President address inflation by providing more money to those of us who need it rather than selling off our public resources to polluters. Speaking of inflation, whatever happened to that enhanced Child Tax Credit again? That did a pretty good job helping rural people pay the bills while it lasted. Or maybe we could add $150 per month to SNAP recipients’ benefits and allow them to buy fuel with it at gas stations?

It’s going to take years to get from lease announcement to flowing oil anyway, so we might as well spend our shared energy-development budget on solar panels, wind turbines, public transportation and other forms of clean energy. Rural jobs of the future and all that.

Rural Reading List

We’re going heavy on food and farm-related stories this week, Keep It Rural readers. Didn’t plan it that way, but here are this week’s selections:

The Return of COOL? Legislation Would Resurrect Origin Labeling for Meat

The Daily Yonder looks at the potential ramifications of passing the American Beef Labeling Act.

OSHA and USDA Should Have Done More to Protect Meatpacking Workers, Report Says

Investigate Midwest coverage, co-published in the Daily Yonder, of the Trump Administration’s mishandling of meatpacking workers slammed by Covid-19 in the early days of the pandemic.

With emergency SNAP benefits ending, a ‘hunger cliff’ looms

FERN looks at the dual challenges of reduced SNAP nutrition benefits and rising food costs for poor, working class rural people who depend on food assistance.

Lawsuit Alleges Chicken Farmer Misclassification

A hot-off-the-presses story on a lawsuit seeking to prevent poultry processors from exploiting the chicken producers who work for them. It could completely transform the industry.

One More Thing: GOP Governors Returning Federal Money Rather Than Helping Rural Renters

Like one of those burrs that keeps finding its way into our proverbial saddles, I wanted to point out the latest installment in “Republican Governors Refusing Federal Funding In Order To Punish Poor Country People In Their States.”

In this case, we’re talking about an informative report from the Boston Globe that documents how governors in rural states like Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, and West Virginia are rejecting federal rental assistance that could be supporting rural tenants and landlords. Instead, that money is getting re-directed to New York, New Jersey and California while also leading to an increase in rural homelessness.

I guess some people just prefer to be cruel.

Happy Tuesday, Keep It Rural readers. We’ll be back next week.

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