Despite impossible odds of passing the GOP-controlled Senate, House lawmakers on their third day of control Tuesday introduced seven bills designed to block the Trump administration's plans to expand offshore oil and gas drilling.
Meanwhile, the White House on Wednesday tapped Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler to lead the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in an official capacity, and sent his nomination to the Senate, where a bipartisan package of more than 100 bills covering public lands, natural resources and water was reintroduced this week.
According to the website Congress.gov, 392 bills have been introduced so far in the House, including 100 on Tuesday. Among those were seven bills that called for prohibiting drilling in the Arctic Ocean, banning oil and gas leasing in offshore California and within the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) in New England, and amending the OCS Lands Act to prohibit oil and gas preleasing and leasing in offshore Florida.
Other bills called for amending the OCS Lands Act by permanently banning offshore drilling on the OCS in California, Oregon and Washington, as well as withdrawing the Atlantic, South Atlantic, North Atlantic, Straits of Florida, and Eastern Gulf of Mexico (GOM) planning areas from the Interior Department's Bureau of Ocean Energy Management National OCS Leasing Program.
"I have been clear since day one about my commitment to fighting against dangerous and unwanted offshore drilling and seismic airgun blasting," said Rep. Joe Cunningham (D-SC), who introduced a bill calling for a 10-year moratorium on oil and gas preleasing and leasing on the OCS in the North Atlantic, Mid-Atlantic, South Atlantic, and Straits of Florida planning areas and in the Eastern GOM.
Democrats who sponsored the other six bills were Reps. Salud Carbajal and Jared Huffman of California, Kathy Castor of Florida, David Cicilline of Rhode Island, Donald McEachin of Virginia and Frank Pallone of New Jersey. Pallone is chair of the powerful House Energy & Commerce Committee, while Castor was tapped last month to chair a new panel, the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis.
The Trump administration proposed revising the OCS program one year ago by opening every available planning area in the U.S. offshore to oil and gas development. But the proposal attracted nationwide scorn from affected state leaders, in part because Florida was given an exemption.
In the Senate, Wheeler's nomination to lead the EPA was one of six it received from the White House. President Trump tapped Wheeler to take the top job last November, and he took the reins on an interim basis after Scott Pruitt resigned as administrator in July. A former lobbyist for the coal industry, Wheeler previously served as chief of staff for Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK), and worked at EPA during the George H.W. Bush and Clinton administrations.
The Senate also received a bipartisan lands package, Senate Bill 47, aka the Natural Resources Management Act, which it placed on its calendar through the Rule 14 process for expedited consideration. The package includes measures to permanently reauthorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund, increase sportsmen's access to federal lands, boost economic development in dozens of communities and conserve lands of special importance.
"While we are disappointed that this package could not pass last year, we remain committed to its provisions and the spirit of our bicameral agreement," said Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Maria Cantwell (D-WA). "The vast majority of bills in this package have been considered through the regular order process and have strong support from members of both parties."
Murkowski chairs the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, while Cantwell is the committee's outgoing ranking member. Cantwell has moved to the Commerce Committee as ranking member.