Gov. Edwards at odds with Biden over moratorium on oil and gas leases

Gov. John Bel Edwards disagrees with President Joe Biden’s targeting of fossil fuel industries and wants the White House to reconsider its decision to pause new oil and gas drilling leases in the Gulf of Mexico, the Louisiana governor’s administration said today.

Biden’s approach to oil and gas strikes at one of Louisiana’s economic engines and an industry that is a chief financial backer of the state’s coastal restoration work, putting the Democratic governor at odds with a president within his own party.

The governor’s top lawyer, coastal adviser and natural resources secretary told state lawmakers at a hearing today that i0Edwards thinks Biden’s moratorium on new oil and gas drilling leases on federal land and waters is the wrong approach to combat climate change.

Environmental groups have lauded Biden’s approach, arguing that it is the kind of bold, urgent action needed to slow climate change, which has been linked to droughts, devastating wildfires and a rising number of hurricanes that have pummeled the region.

Edwards this week, however, voiced concerns about the moratorium to Biden’s energy secretary pick, Jennifer Granholm, according to Louisiana Natural Resources Secretary Thomas Harris.

“I know he’s arguing. He’s working it every day. He’s constantly calling me looking for new ammunition” to make his case to the Biden administration, Harris says.

But lawmakers on the state House and Senate natural resources committees pushed Edwards to make a direct appeal to Biden, noting that as the only Democratic governor in the Deep South he could have more sway with the president.

“We’ve got to do something, talk to somebody and make some moves,” says Sen. Mike Fesi, R-Houma, who owns an oil and gas pipeline construction and maintenance company.

While the Edwards administration talked of trying to negotiate with the White House, Republican Attorney General Jeff Landry intends more direct challenges to the Biden administration’s regulatory and executive actions.

“In cases where we can, we will litigate,” says Bill Stiles, Landry’s chief deputy.

States have little control or say in the management of federal lands and waters, however, leaving political pressure, appeals to Congress and suggestions for alternate policies among their options to reverse Biden’s policies.

Edwards has regularly refused to air his grievances with presidents, Republican or Democrat, publicly. Harris says the governor will continue that approach in this disagreement with the Biden administration.

“I think the best thing we can do is make the coherent argument that what they’re proposing is not the appropriate path forward,” Harris says.

Biden wants to shift the nation’s focus from fossil fuels to cleaner alternatives, such as wind and solar energy, with a goal of eliminating pollution from fossil fuel in the power sector by 2035 and from the U.S. economy overall by 2050. The president suggests his directives will create jobs in renewable energy and other sectors that can offset the lost employment in oil and natural gas.

But Louisiana officials and industry representatives say Biden’s actions will cause massive job losses across the Gulf Coast, crater economic activity in the region and strip millions of dollars that Louisiana uses from offshore drilling to pay for coastal restoration projects.

Wednesday’s hearing at the Louisiana Capitol outlined those fears, with Republican members of the state’s congressional delegation, leaders of coastal parishes and oil and gas representatives predicting widespread damaging impacts.