Energy & Environment

Energy panel Republicans grill Biden Interior nominee on leasing in rare second hearing

Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.)
Greg Nash

Republicans on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee pressed President Biden’s nominee for a top Interior Department post on oil and gas leasing in a rare second nomination hearing on Tuesday.

Laura Daniel-Davis, Biden’s nominee for assistant Interior secretary for land and minerals management, previously answered questions from the panel in September. In 2021, the committee deadlocked on her nomination, voting 10-10 along party lines.

While the full Senate could take up the nomination to settle the tie, Chairman Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) granted a request from ranking member John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) for a second hearing. Such hearings are rare but not unprecedented, with Federal Communications Commission nominee Gigi Sohn also set to have a second hearing Tuesday.

Notably, Barrasso himself was not present at the hearing, with Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) leading GOP questioning of Daniel-Davis and two Energy Department nominees. Barrasso’s office confirmed the senator has been in Wyoming this week while his wife Bobbi had a successful procedure to remove an intracranial lesion.

Republican questioning of Daniel-Davis largely centered on the Biden administration’s pause on new oil and gas leasing, which a federal court struck down last June.

Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) said in his questioning of Daniel-Davis that he was “a little frustrated” with the progress of the administration’s compliance with the ruling, accusing the Interior Department of “deliberate foot-dragging.” Noting a Jan. 27 court order halting one of the department’s lease sales until environmental impact can be assessed, he asked Daniel-Davis the timeline for compliance with the more recent order.

While Daniel-Davis noted that the order was less than two weeks ago, Cassidy responded that he was sure it was anticipated within the administration. Daniel-Davis confirmed there was not a firm timeline, which Cassidy responded “tells me a lot.”

Daniel-Davis responded that she was “not in a position to get ahead of [Interior Secretary Deb Haaland’s] decisionmaking,” prompting Cassidy to ask if Haaland intended to defy the court order.

“We are in deliberative posture and I’m not going to get ahead of her,” Daniel-Davis replied.

Another Republican on the panel, Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss.), similarly criticized the pace of the leasing, saying she had “never seen such slow-walking my life.”

Daniel-Davis noted that despite the court order, “leasing is ongoing, onshore and offshore.”

Manchin, who voted to confirm Daniel-Davis in 2021, emphasized his support of her in his opening statement, saying “no one should doubt Ms. Daniel-Davis’s knowledge and experience or her commitment to public service.”

“She had my support last year, she has my support this year.”

–Updated on Feb. 9 at 2:38 p.m.

Tags Bill Cassidy Deb Haaland Joe Biden Joe Manchin John Barrasso Lisa Murkowski

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