Biden admin inadvertently praises fossil fuel drilling benefits
The Biden administration touted conservation programs funded by bipartisan legislation passed in 2020, but it failed to mention that they are largely fueled by federal fossil fuel drilling revenues.
In a joint announcement Thursday, the Department of the Interior and Agriculture Department praised the Legacy Restoration Fund (LRF) and Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), both of which were earmarked in the Great American Outdoors Act. The agencies said the programs would enable them to spend $2.8 billion on various conservation initiatives in fiscal year 2024.
"The Great American Outdoors Act allows us to increase outdoor recreation opportunities, improve infrastructure on our public lands, invest in the U.S. economy, and honor our commitment to Tribal communities," Interior Secretary Deb Haaland said in a statement.
"Funding made possible through the Great American Outdoors Act’s Legacy Restoration Fund allows us to enhance equitable access for recreators, create job opportunities, advance community well-being and improve rural and urban economies," Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack added.
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The Great American Outdoors Act — which former President Donald Trump signed in August 2020 after it passed with veto-proof majorities in the Senate and House — earmarks $1.9 billion per year to the LRF for deferred public lands maintenance and another $900 million per year to the LWCF for various conservation and recreation programs.
Both programs, and others included in the law, are funded by various forms of energy development on federal lands and waters. And the vast majority of that funding is specifically derived from fossil fuels, mainly oil, natural gas and coal development.
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According to Office of Natural Resources Revenue data, for example, about 90% of the $9.6 billion in federal energy revenue that has been generated during the current fiscal year has derived from fossil fuel royalties. The remainder has come from other commodities, such as geothermal, mineral resources and wind development, which have accounted for 0.05% of federal energy revenue.
"All of the funding for the Great American Outdoors Act comes from energy development on federal lands and offshore waters," Hannah Downey, policy director at the Property and Environment Research Center, testified during a congressional hearing last year. "Indeed, federal energy revenues have long provided significant funding for conservation and recreation on public lands."
However, the Biden administration's announcement Thursday didn't mention the source of the conservation programs it touted. And the administration, led by the Department of the Interior, has repeatedly attempted to decrease the amount of land and waters leased for fossil fuel production, potentially curbing the government's future energy revenue.
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The Department of the Interior has only held a handful of onshore fossil fuel lease sales since President Biden took office, and it only held those auctions after a federal judge issued an injunction that blocked the president's moratorium on new drilling. The agency has also failed to hold any offshore lease sales that weren't otherwise legally mandated, and it proposed a plan to block all such leasing through 2028.
LWCF funding could alone decline by up to $420 million a year if the Department of the Interior restricts future offshore oil and gas leasing, according to a 2022 report from the National Ocean Industries Association (NOIA) and the American Petroleum Institute.
"America’s conservation and outdoor recreation legacy is one that is reinforced by a healthy offshore oil and gas industry, a predominant source of funding for conservation programs across all 50 states," NOIA President Erik Milito said after the Great American Outdoors Act was passed in 2020.
"The funding for the GAOA is earmarked from energy activities on federal lands, and it is now even more important to protect Gulf of Mexico energy production, as without it, billions of dollars of funding for beloved conservation and recreation programs, such as the Land and Water Conservation Fund, will disappear," he continued.
A spokesperson for the Department of the Interior said Thursday that the agency would continue to implement the law.
"The department will continue to obey the law, including implementation of the Great American Outdoors Act and Inflation Reduction Act," Interior spokesperson Melissa Schwartz told Fox News Digital.