President Biden’s first days in office

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Chris Kearney | NSWA Vice President, Governmental Affairs

President Biden was sworn in on Jan. 20, and his administration has been quite active since. Here is where things stand on major issues of note.

COVID Relief

President  Biden issued a COVID virus response plan related to COVID and a series of immediate steps to address the pandemic — along with a $1.9 trillion legislative proposal that was submitted to Congress (text not publicly available yet). The legislation – which builds on the December legislative package – proposes additional funding for, among other things, testing and vaccination distribution, as well as aid to states and localities to assist them in their COVID relief efforts.

In addition, the President launched a series of executive actions designed to modify or roll back actions by the Trump Administration.

Executive Actions (including Oil and Gas Impacts)

On its first day, the new administration announced a series of executive actions by the Trump Administration that relevant agencies are directed to review. Based on that review, the agencies have the authority to revoke, suspend, modify, or replace those measures as the agency head deems fit. The  executive actions under review run the gamut of government matters, including, but not limited to, ones related to agriculture, labor, national defense, transportation, natural resources, energy, and environmental matters.

Actions under review of note include: The White House Council of Environmental Quality’s NEPA reforms; as well as EPA’s Waters Of The United States rule and the Ozone air standards rule.

Others of note at the Department of Interior: the Critical Habitat Rule; Incidental Take rule under Migratory Bird Treaty Act (rule is aimed at protecting energy facilities from paying penalties if birds are killed indirectly or accidentally as a result of operations).

Interior also issued an order last Wednesday requiring the approval of senior agency officials to issue new drilling permits or oil and gas leases over the next 60 days, which as a practical matter only impacts one lease in Nevada.

The order is fairly broad and also applies to decisions on federal easements, environmental reviews, mining operations and hiring.

By contrast, the moratorium  announced yesterday – as part of a comprehensive Climate related executive order – allows the administration to assess their environmental impact of permits and leases, thus allowing the agency to decide whether – and how – to restart selling them. The review could result in an end to leasing – or possibly new limits on selling tracts and increased costs to acquire them. The key provision, section 208 of the Order, states:

Oil and Natural Gas Development on Public Lands and in Offshore Waters.  To the extent consistent with applicable law, the Secretary of the Interior shall pause new oil and natural gas leases on public lands or in offshore waters pending completion of a comprehensive review and reconsideration of Federal oil and gas permitting and leasing practices in light of the Secretary of the Interior’s broad stewardship responsibilities over the public lands and in offshore waters, including potential climate and other impacts associated with oil and gas activities on public lands or in offshore waters.  The Secretary of the Interior shall complete that review in consultation with the Secretary of Agriculture, the Secretary of Commerce, through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the Secretary of Energy.  In conducting this analysis, and to the extent consistent with applicable law, the Secretary of the Interior shall consider whether to adjust royalties associated with coal, oil, and gas resources extracted from public lands and offshore waters, or take other appropriate action, to account for corresponding climate costs.

The Administration also unveiled an executive order that focuses on the government-to-government relationship with Native American tribes and the government’s consultation with tribes.   

In addition, last week the President signed a sweeping executive order on energy and environment regulatory issues. Of note, the order identifies a litany of recent EPA regulations to be targeted for reconsideration, including methane emission limits for new oil and gas sources; rules rolling back tailpipe carbon dioxide limits and revoking California’s special regulatory waiver; and the agency’s finding that mercury limits for power plants were not “appropriate and necessary.”

It also directs the DOE to begin reviewing process changes the previous administration carried out that made it more difficult to write stronger efficiency standards, including the “process rule” and the 45-day approval rule. The order also requires the White House Council on Environmental Quality (the office charged with coordinating domestic environmental policy) to rescind guidance limiting the inclusion of greenhouse gas emissions in agency environmental reviews.

Congressional Action

On the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue, Congress got off to a fast start with several confirmation hearings for cabinet secretaries including Treasury and Defense, and the confirmation of the National Director of Intelligence, as well as Defense, State, and Treasury Secretaries. That pace is likely to continue, with additional hearings and votes to confirm various secretaries. The Senate impeachment trial of former President Trump is now scheduled to be the week of February 8. As a technical matter, it began on Monday, January 25 with transmittal of the single article of Impeachment, Senators sworn in as jurors, etc.  The trial now stands “recess” for two weeks to allow other Senate work to be done – confirming of secretaries, possible COVID leg action etc.

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