Interior Oil and Gas Leasing Public Forum: Highlights and Reflections

Slide from presentation on BLM leasing
This webinar is worth a watch for anyone interested in the topic. Here’s the agenda. Folks at Interior couched this as being presentations by “experts”; I would call them interests, myself. The recording is available here.

* Excellent explanation of the BLM leasing process by Nada Culver. Culver, according to this E&E news story, may also be up for the permanent BLM Director post (Senate-confirmed). Culver is an environmental attorney, formerly working for National Audubon.

* We heard from Indigenous interests first. Sharp (National Congress of American Indians) and Borromeo (Alaska Federation of Natives) both focused on the importance of all forms of energy production to their communities, region and the country. As Borromeo said (not an absolutely exact quote) “we don’t inhabit an either/or space about energy production and refuse to be caught between industry and environmental groups.” Sharp is at 49:31 and Borromeo is around 1 hour. Both Sharp and Borromeo represented Native organizations. According to their websites:

As a member-based representative Congress, NCAI is governed by voting members who determine NCAI’s consensus positions expressed in resolutions, which are developed in committees and sub-committees and then voted on at national conventions. NCAI members also elect the organization’s Executive Committee – the NCAI President, 1st Vice President, Recording Secretary, and Treasurer. These are elected by the entire membership.

The Alaska Federation of Natives (AFN) is the largest statewide Native organization in Alaska. Its membership includes 168 federally recognized tribes, 166 village corporations, 8 regional corporations, and 12 regional nonprofit and tribal consortiums that contract and compact to run federal and state programs. AFN is governed by a 38-member board, which is elected by its membership at the annual convention held each October.

One speaker (Mario Atencio) on the panel represented a Dine’ environmental group (Dine’ CARE). The website’s tagline is “Citizens against ruining our environment.”

*The discussion of offshore leasing. I thought Frank Macchiarola of API did a great job of explaining the pros of offshore. He naturally mentioned that receipts are used to fund popular programs such as LWCF. Dr. David Yoskowitz, of Corpus Christi, talked about the success of a broad-based coalition the “Gulf of Mexico Alliance”.. it would be interesting to learn more about their collaboration.

* 2/3 of the Indigenous presentations, and the two labor presentation were very similar in concern for working people in the US. As long as we’re using it here, why not produce it here? All acknowledged we need to transition to new energy sources, but were wary of dumping existing jobs for those which only exist in the talking points of political folk.

If you only have a small amount of time (each presentation is five minutes), I’d listen to the Indigenous and the Labor presentations, because those voices are less heard in many news stories.

* There was a panel of “equity experts” – three folks from NGO’s concerned about equity, the Hispanic Access Foundation, NAACP Climate Justice Program and the Deep South Center for Environmental Justice. These NGO’s are interesting because they spoke as if they were representing the interests of ethnic/racial groups, without having a mechanism for representation.
For example, the Hispanic Access Foundation’s conservation program says

Hispanic Access Foundation’s conservation program seeks to elevate diverse Latino voices and leaders to support Latino communities to advocate for the environmental issues that directly affect their daily lives.

It’s interesting that the Hispanic Access Foundation has been funded by the Hewlett Foundation. I wasn’t surprised as the speaker made some claims about how Hispanics feel about issues based on the Colorado College poll, also funded by Hewlett as part of a larger initiative. More on this aspect in a later post. What I’d like to draw attention to here is the question of equity.. is it something to be judged based on how members of disadvantaged groups feel? How do you find that out? Do you need to be an “equity expert” to weigh in and how do those experts arrive at their conclusions? How does diversity and inclusion in the oil and gas industry fit into equity.. or does it? Where is the overlap between social justice and environmental justice or do we need separate social and environmental equity panels?

For example, we can look at figures like these (note, the Permian is not on federal land).

In 2019, Permian companies employed more than 12,560 women and 48 percent of all oil and gas jobs were held by Hispanic or Latino workers, according to the report.

and wonder, would their views more allied with the Hispanic Access Foundation, or the views of the union reps?

Speaking of the union reps, in the Q&A one of them said that the wind industry paid about half (less than a living wage) of what the oil and gas industry pays, and suggested that any wind turbines on federal land be required to pay better. I didn’t catch all of it, but I had never heard that before.

Bottom line for this public forum- if you’re for Indigenous and unions (as the Biden Admin is), you have plenty of political cover to stand up to folks like NRDC (whose rep gave what sounded like a political speech, not really what I heard the Interior folks ask for). Check out some of the presentations (they are each five minutes, so are mostly very focused) and let us know what you think.

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