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S. 76: POWER Act of 2021

Does the executive order hurt the economy more than it helps the environment?

Context and what the legislation does

On January 27, President Joe Biden issued an executive order placing a moratorium on oil and gas leases in federal land and waters. This didn’t ban the practices entirely, directing the federal government to review — rather than actually halt — existing leases on federal lands and waters, while making no changes to oil and gas leases on tribal lands either.

The POWER (Protecting our Wealth of Energy Resources) Act would effectively kneecap that executive order, by blocking either the president, Secretary of Agriculture, Energy, or Interior from halting such energy permits unless Congress approves such a move.

The House version was introduced on January 28 as bill number H.R. 543, by Rep. Yvette Herrell (R-NM2). The Senate version was introduced the same day as bill number S. 76, by Sen. Cynthia Lummis (R-WY).

What supporters say

Supporters argue that the bill would help America’s energy independence, the economy, and even secondary effects like public education.

“More than half the oil and more than two-thirds of the natural gas produced in New Mexico is on federal lands. A moratorium on new leases will devastate our state’s economy… and decimate our state’s budget,” Rep. Herrell said in a press release. “This will have the greatest impact on the children of New Mexico, where our public education system received more than $1 billion in funding from the oil and gas industry last year alone.”

That $1 billion statistic is accurate; the New Mexico Tax Research Institute calculated the oil and gas industry contributed $1.3 billion to New Mexico public education in fiscal year 2019.

“The Biden Ban would be nothing short of catastrophic for western states that are already reeling from the decline in energy usage brought on by the pandemic and continued volatility in energy markets. It’s a one-two punch that means disaster for energy jobs, families and communities,” Sen. Lummis said in a press release. With this bill, “Congress would reiterate that federal lands should serve not the whims of a radical progressive minority, but the needs of all Americans.”

What opponents say

Opponents counter that the executive order is necessary for the environment, given the effects of increasing temperatures globally.

“The United States and the world face a profound climate crisis. We have a narrow moment to pursue action at home and abroad in order to avoid the most catastrophic impacts of that crisis and to seize the opportunity that tackling climate change presents,” President Biden wrote in his executive order. “Domestic action must go hand in hand with United States international leadership, aimed at significantly enhancing global action. Together, we must listen to science and meet the moment.”

Biden also claims his executive order will help, rather than hurt, employment and the economy.

“When I think of climate change and the answers to it, I think of jobs,” Biden said in public remarks when unveiling his executive order. “Building a modern, resilient climate infrastructure and clean energy future will create millions of good-paying union jobs — not 7, 8, 10, 12 dollars an hour, but prevailing wage and benefits. You know, we can put millions of Americans to work modernizing our water systems, transportation, our energy infrastructure to withstand the impacts of extreme climate.”

Odds of passage

The House version has attracted 30 cosponsors, all Republicans. It awaits a potential vote in either the House Agriculture or Natural Resources Committee.

The Senate version has attracted 26 cosponsors, all Republicans. It awaits a potential vote in the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

Odds of passage are low in the Democratic-controlled Congress.

Last updated Feb 8, 2021. View all GovTrack summaries.

The summary below was written by the Congressional Research Service, which is a nonpartisan division of the Library of Congress, and was published on Jan 28, 2021.

Protecting Our Wealth of Energy Resources Act of 2021 or the POWER Act of 2021

This bill requires the President and federal agencies to obtain the approval of Congress before prohibiting or substantially delaying certain new energy or mineral leases or permits on federal lands, including oil and gas leases, coal leases, hard rock leases, or critical minerals leases.

In addition, the President and agencies must obtain the approval of Congress before withdrawing certain federal lands from mineral and geothermal leasing activities.