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La. officials, industry leaders react to Biden moratorium on new drilling leases

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BATON ROUGE - Depending on who you talked to, there were different degrees of disappointment across Louisiana Wednesday, after President Joe Biden halted new oil and gas leases on federal land or in federal waters, including the Gulf of Mexico.

"We see that the announcement today is sort of a step backward," Tyler Gray, president of the Louisiana Mid-Continent Oil and Gas Association, said.

The pause on leases, which fulfills a Biden campaign promise and follows a 60-day suspension of routine permit approvals, is part of the new administration's larger plan to address climate change and environmental concerns.

The executive order, one of many signed Wednesday, also tasks the Interior Department with reviewing all existing oil and gas leases on federal property. Current leases are not affected, but those in the industry are afraid they could be next.

"Whether or not this ban moves from a leasing ban to an all-out ban on development of federal lands, we're not sure yet," said Gifford Briggs of the American Petroleum Institute. "But there are indications that's the direction they're heading."

Briggs, formerly of the Louisiana Oil and Gas Association, says this decision could turn away future offshore investors. It puts the state at risk of losing hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue, in addition to tens of thousands of jobs in Louisiana, and up to 200,000 across the Gulf Coast.

According to the LMOGA, the oil and natural gas industry accounts for 26% of the state's GDP.

Gray says while the effects of this moratorium will not surface overnight, they will ultimately affect not just direct employees of the oil and gas industry, but those indirectly associated.

"You're talking about car dealers on Ryan Street in Lake Charles, grocery store workers in Galiano," Gray said.

All six of the current members of Louisiana's congressional delegation have come out publicly against Biden's move:

Rep. Garret Graves: "bad for Louisiana workers and families"

Rep. Mike Johnson: "If there was any doubt whether President Biden is going to side with climate activists or working families, the answer is now crystal clear."

Rep. Steve Scalise: “Today’s executive order, combined with last week’s decision to halt energy leasing and permits, will put thousands of Americans out of work, increase energy costs on hard-working families, and make our country less secure."

Rep. Clay Higgins: "President Biden's war on the American oil and gas is just beginning. His 'energy policy' will be bad for America, bad for the world's ecology… and good for China."

Both Louisiana senators also reacted to Biden's executive order pausing new leases on public lands.

"That will hurt American energy production and cost American jobs," Sen. Bill Cassidy said Tuesday ahead of the administration's formal announcement.

"This is not just going to impact oil and gas jobs and families," Sen. John Kennedy said. "This is going to hurt petrochemical. It's going to hurt refineries. This is going to cause people to leave our state."

Kennedy, along with colleagues, introduced a bill Wednesday to reverse Biden's decision.

Following the move, Louisiana's industry leaders and officials touted environmental regulations already in place for drilling in the Gulf of Mexico versus elsewhere around the world.

"It makes more sense under the strict environmental regulations, to produce oil here, or natural gas, here in the United States with these tight environmental concerns, than it does to outsource that to countries that have no regulations, no concern for the environment, no restrictions in place at all," Briggs said."

Gray says protecting the environment and fighting climate change can occur while investment in drilling, both onshore and offshore, continues.

"They are not mutually exclusive, Gray said. "You don't need to look at it from an environmental stewardship standpoint or energy needs. You can do both."

Gray, Briggs, and Louisiana's congressional delegation all had similar concerns about energy security.

"Decisions like this are going to make us more reliant on foreign sources for oil and natural gas," Briggs said. "Which make us more susceptible to higher prices for oil, higher prices for gasoline, and this comes at a time when our economy is struggling."

Gov. John Bel Edwards addressed the moratorium on his monthly radio show Wednesday. Edwards said the state is "concerned about any moratorium that would affect the Gulf."

He went on to say the state would work to influence the administration's policy during the pause but was also responsible for striking a balance between the state's oil and gas industry relationship and climate change.

During remarks before a signing ceremony Wednesday, Biden directly highlighted the River parishes' so-called "cancer alley."

"With this executive order, environmental justice will be at the center of all we do addressing the disproportionate health and environmental and economic impacts on communities of color — so-called “fenceline communities” — especially those communities — brown, black, Native American, poor whites," Biden said. "It’s hard — the hard-hit areas like Cancer Alley in Louisiana — Cancer Alley in Louisiana, or the Route 9 corridor in the state of Delaware.

"That’s why we’re going to work to make sure that they receive 40 percent of the benefits of key federal investments in clean energy, clean water, and wastewater infrastructure. Lifting up these communities makes us all stronger as a nation and increases the health of everybody."

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