Lawmakers Work to Ensure That the Next Stimulus Bill Is For The People, Not Polluters

Caroline Griffith

SEATTLE, WA – MAY 14: Environmental activists in kayaks protest the arrival of the Polar Pioneer, an oil drilling rig owned by Shell Oil, in Seattle, Washington. The rig is part of a fleet that will lead a controversial oil-exploration effort off Alaska’s North Slope. (Photo by Karen Ducey/Getty Images) Creative Commons

Rep. Nanette Diaz Barragan (D-Calif) and 29 other House members are preparing legislation that would prevent the Trump administration from using stimulus funds to provide aid to the beleaguered fossil-fuel industry. The bill seeks to block the president from using emergency powers to provide loan guarantees, stop royalty relief, bar new oil reserve purchases and enact a permit moratorium during the crisis. Also supported by nine members of the Senate, this bill is in response to Senate legislation (S. 3597) which seeks to appropriate $3 billion to fill the Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR). Filling the SPR is something that President Trump has been calling for, but which has been left out of previous stimulus bills. 

“It would be unconscionable to bail out big oil and gas corporations with money intended to help families, workers and small businesses survive this global pandemic,” Barragán said in a statement.

“The CARES Act passed to help Americans struggling to make it through the COVID-19 public health crisis,” she said, “not to make it easier for fossil fuel companies to drive us closer to climate catastrophe.”

A moratorium on issuing permits on new oil and gas leases and pipeline projects during the COVID-19 pandemic is something that environmental groups and lawmakers have been seeking since the crisis began. They argue that Shelter-In-Place orders and public health concerns are keeping the public from being involved in the permitting process, which has never been very accessible to the public in the first place.

Despite the fact that oil prices have dropped precipitously, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission continues to approve permits (see https://www.yournec.org/Jordan-cove-conditional-approval). It argues that this is imperative to keeping the country’s “critical energy infrastructure” running in preparation for a return to “normalcy.” Rather than slowing the process to allow for transparency and public input, FERC has waived requirements for in-person meetings and notarized documents, and authorized the Director of the Office of Energy Policy to unilaterally “act on motions for extension of time to file, or requests or petitions for waiver of the requirements of” specific transaction reports. According to FERC, the changes are being made to prioritize “efficient processing of requests for waiver and other requests for relief”. In essence, speeding up the permitting process and obscuring it from public scrutiny.

60 Democratic House members, including North Coast Representative Jared Huffman, have also signed onto a letter to House leadership asking them to “categorically oppose any attempt to confer immunity on the fossil fuel industry or to limit its liability for the damages it causes to people or property” in any new Coronavirus relief package. As the letter states, “Cities, counties, and states across the country are fighting back by taking the companies that knowingly contributed to climate change to court to recover their damages. We should not interfere with ongoing litigation by granting the culpable parties a license to destroy our eco-system with financial impunity and legal immunity.”