Jewell pushes Interior budget that stresses renewable energy

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell appeared before the House Committee on Natural Resources on March 1 to discuss President Obama’s $13.4bn Interior Department budget proposal for FY 2017.

She encountered a great deal of pushback from GOP congressional members who said the Obama administration’s Interior policies seek to strangle commercial development of coal and fossil fuels from public lands.

Committee Vice Chair Rep. Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.) confronted Jewell about Department of Interior (DOI) regulations hurting the natural resource and energy business in Wyoming.

“You are destroying my state’s economy,” Lummis said. “The manner in which this Administration has treated my state is absolutely deplorable. Half of Wyoming is controlled by the DOI and their policies are destroying families, jobs, and the ability to earn an income.

“These policies are absolutely geared towards killing coal, limiting oil and gas production on federal lands, and diminishing the revenues available from those lands, which hurts my state more than any other state,” Lummis said.

“I’m not surprised the President wants to gobble up more land—despite massive maintenance backlogs and increasing catastrophic wildfires,” said Committee Chairman Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah). Bishop said he was happy that this was the last budget being submitted by the Obama administration.

“Local communities deserve to be empowered to be better stewards of their natural resources, not a $20 billion dollar bill to taxpayers to fulfill the far left’s policy fantasies.” Bishop said.

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee had questioned Jewell on Interior budget issues only days before.

For her part, Jewell said the budget proposal invests in renewable energy development programs to review and permit renewable energy projects on public lands and in offshore waters. Under the administration’s Climate Action Plan, these funds will allow Interior to continue progress toward its goal of increasing approved capacity authorized for renewable energy resources affecting Interior managed lands. Interior has overseen development of at least 16,600 MW since the end of FY 2009.

The budget proposal includes an increase of $2m for the Office of Insular Affairs to provide assistance to implement energy projects identified by the territories in their comprehensive sustainable energy strategies, Jewell said.

To address the continuing legacy of abandoned mine lands on the health, safety, environment, and economic opportunity of communities, the budget proposes $1bn to states and tribes over five years from the un-appropriated balance of the AML Trust Fund, administered by the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement.

As part of the President’s POWER+ Plan, the AML funding will be used to target the reclamation of mine land sites and associated polluted waters in a manner that promotes sustainable redevelopment in economically distressed coalfield communities. The budget includes legislative reforms to strengthen the health care and pension plans that provide for the health and retirement security of coal miners and their families, Jewell said.

Funding would continue for offshore wind energy leasing

The budget provides $23.9m for offshore renewable energy activities. To date, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) has issued 11 commercial wind energy leases offshore; conducted five competitive wind energy lease sales for areas offshore Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Rhode Island, and Virginia; and approved the Construction and Operations Plan for the Cape Wind project offshore Massachusetts.

Additionally, BOEM is in the planning stages for wind leasing offshore New York, North Carolina, and South Carolina. In 2015, BOEM executed the first wind energy research lease in U.S. Federal waters with the Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals, and Energy.

The 2017 budget provides $64.2m for conventional energy development, a programmatic increase of $4.2m above 2016, Jewell said.

About Wayne Barber 4201 Articles
Wayne Barber, Chief Analyst for the GenerationHub, has been covering power generation, energy and natural resources issues at national publications for more than 20 years. Prior to joining PennWell he was editor of Generation Markets Week at SNL Financial for nine years. He has also worked as a business journalist at both McGraw-Hill and Financial Times Energy. Wayne also worked as a newspaper reporter for several years. During his career has visited nuclear reactors and coal mines as well as coal and natural gas power plants. Wayne can be reached at wayneb@pennwell.com.