Last week the U.S. House passed multiple pro-oil, anti-environmental pieces of legislation that would, among other things, charge a $5,000 fee in order to file an official protest against a proposed drilling project, sparking outrage from environmentalists and First Amendment advocates alike.
One of those bills, the Federal Land Jobs and Energy Security Act, which was introduced by Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.), has been called a “benefits package for oil companies,” since as a report in the Digital Journal pointed out, the oil and gas industry was the number one campaign contributor to co-sponsors of the legislation, and the second highest-donor for Lamborn himself, behind the defense aerospace industry.
The legislation would allow oil and gas companies to drill on public lands, and also allows for the commercial leasing of land for the development of oil shale in Western states, specifically Colorado, Utah and Wyoming, and would open up Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas exploration.
Under Lamborn’s bill, the federal government would be required to lease at least 10 pieces of land in 2014 for use by oil and gas companies for research and demonstration projects, which are estimated to be no less than 25,000 acres each.
According to a report from Think Progress, commercial leasing of federal lands for oil shale has been banned since Herbert Hoover was president in the early 1930s because it’s a “type of rock that needs to be heated to nearly 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit to produce crude oil, which then has to be refined.”
The bill has not been approved by the Senate, and the Obama administration has threatened to veto the it since “H.R. 1965 would reverse Administration oil and gas leasing reforms that have established orderly, open, efficient, and environmentally sound processes for energy development on public lands.”
Another point of concern with the bill is that if the legislation were to be signed into law, onshore drilling permits would automatically be approved if the Department of Interior (DOI) failed to act on them within 60 days.
“This bill is not simply anachronistic; it is dangerous,” a group of Democratic Representatives said in their dissent of the bill. “It would harm the environment, short-circuit critical reviews, and establish barriers to people wishing to challenge decisions on oil and gas development in their backyards.”
The Natural Resources Defense Council shared the Democratic Represenatives concerns, saying “This [bill] would direct that federal lands be managed for the primary purpose of energy development, rather than for stewardship balancing multiple uses including recreation.”
The group added that the bill “would also curb and then penalize the public for raising concerns about oil and gas projects on public lands that may affect them.”
Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) proposed an amendment to the bill, hoping to clarify that the $5,000 protest fee was not in violation of Americans First Amendment rights to peacefully assemble, but that addendum was defeated.
Despite all of the criticism of the bills, supporters of the legislation argue that the bill has the ability to create an estimated 350,000 jobs and allow the U.S. to be energy independent for the next 200 years.
“The only reason we haven’t seen that same dynamic growth on federal lands is because of excess regulations,” Lamborn said. He added that allowing this bill to become law would reduce federal “red tape” and reduce the number of “frivolous lawsuits that act as stumbling blocks to job creation and energy development.”
Rep. Bill Flores (R-Texas), a co-sponsor of Lamborn’s bill and another similar bill recently passed by the House, agreed with Lamborn’s points and said that thanks to fracking and other oil-production techniques, the U.S. could be “energy secure” by 2020.
He added: “This is a goal we should pursue, just as we did in the 1960s to put a man on the moon.”
But the Natural Resources Defense Council pointed out that oil shale is “the dirtiest fuel on the planet,” and that production of the oil “would emit four times more carbon pollution than producing conventional gasoline.”
Environmentalists have also pointed out in recent weeks that lawmakers reluctance to address the environmental concerns associated with the bill is likely a direct result of not wanting to bite the hand that feeds them. According to recently released findings from the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics Washington, “fracking industry contributions to congressional campaigns went up 231 percent from 2004 to 2012 in districts and states where fracking has occurred.”
In response to the Republican lawmakers insistence of passing the legislation, Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), the second-highest ranking Democrat in the House, said the bills were a waste of time and added his GOP-colleagues are “distract[ing] and delay[ing] this body’s critical attention to the issues of critical concern to all Americans,” including the passage of a federal budget, a farm bill, and immigration reform.