Energy & Environment

Polluters would help foot the bill for conservation under Democratic spending proposal

Fossil fuel and mining companies would contribute billions towards conservation programs under a new proposal from Democrats on a key House committee. 

In a memo dated Tuesday that was obtained by the Center for Biological Diversity, the Natural Resources Committee said it planned to raise $5.5 billion to $6 billion from fees on drilling and pipelines as well as coal and hard rock mining. 

Added to the $25.6 billion the committee was already allotted, the committee’s new proposal assumes it’ll have $31.6 billion to work with. 

A spokesperson for the committee declined to comment on the memo. 

The proposal would impose fees on oil and gas companies through changes to royalties paid to the government to drill on federal lands and waters, imposing annual pipeline owner fees and getting rid of noncompetitive leasing bids and “royalty relief” under which royalty fees are reduced or eliminated.

It would additionally impose “carbon pollution fees,” fees on nonoperational wells and changes to rental rates and lease term lengths to raise revenue. 

The proposal by Democrats to offset the spending has already been met with pushback from Republican lawmakers who say the added fees will hurt domestic energy and lead to job losses. 

Overall, the proposal divides its spending by subcommittee, devoting about $5.6 billion to the national parks, forests and public lands subcommittee, about $5.6 billion for its subcommittee on indigenous people, $550 million for its subcommittee on wildlife, $12 billion for its subcommittee on oceans and coasts, $2.9 billion for energy and mineral resources and $3.6 billion for water. 

One of the biggest chunks of change would be $3 billion devoted to the Civilian Climate Corps — a conservation jobs program that’s been a priority for progressive advocates  — and an additional $120 million for a climate corps that’s specific to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. 

The proposal also said it hopes to “repeal” the leasing program in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, an Alaska area that’s home to grizzly bears, polar bears and more than 200 species of birds. A 2017 law required the government to lease land at the refuge for drilling.  

The new proposal would also seek to ban offshore drilling in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, as well as the Eastern Gulf of Mexico. 

And it allocates $25 million apiece for conserving butterflies, desert fish and freshwater mussels. 

Members of the committee are considering the proposal as part of the forthcoming $3.5 trillion spending package Democrats are working to pass in Congress without Republican support through a process called reconciliation.

Democrats hope to use the process, which will allow them to bypass the filibuster in the Senate, to advance a number of key priorities of the party and President Biden’s legislative agenda.

Party leadership says a recent budget resolution for the package passed by both chambers will unlock spending for boosts in clean energy funding, education and health care expansions that weren’t included in the $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure package green-lighted by the upper chamber earlier this month.

However, Democrats face obstacles in achieving the unity needed to pass the package given the party holds narrow control in the House and Senate, and as tensions run high between centrists and progressives over spending.

Some in the party have also expressed concerns over Biden’s proposals to shift the U.S. away from fossil fuels. 

Last month, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) said while remarking on Biden’s climate proposals that he was concerned about “maintaining the energy independence the United States of America has and with that you cannot be moving toward” eliminating fossil fuels.

Manchin, whose state’s economy partly relies on coal, said then that, if the nation moves away from fossil fuel, there “won’t be another country that will step to the plate to do the research and development that will fix the emissions that are coming.”

Meanwhile, the new memo also points to tension over how much funding should go to the Interior Department (DOI), saying that the $25.6 billion allocation that was negotiated by the White House, Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) “largely omitted” funds for the department. 

“We have reworked the allocation to address some of the needs at DOI. However, we will continue to advocate for additional funding through the process,” the memo stated. “It continues to be our understanding that the Senate plans to spend far more money in our space than what we have been allocated.”

Tags Arctic National Wildlife Refuge Charles Schumer Chuck Schumer Civilian Climate Corps Energy fees Fossil fuel House Joe Biden Joe Manchin Nancy Pelosi Royalties

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