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Andrew Follett: On Energy, Biden Chooses Not to Mess with Texas

Biden’s EPA has paused an industry-killing ‘anti-smog’ measure . . . for now. Good news: The Biden administration has given up, at least temporarily, on implementing new draconian bureaucratic regulations that would strangle Texas's energy industry. The move comes at a time of global energy-market uncertainty, with the war in Ukraine and other factors causing price fluctuations that have raised energy costs for many Americans.

Since Biden took office in January 2021, the price of a barrel of oil has spiked by 44 percent, and further threatening the world's energy security by obstructing Texas oil production seems to be, at least for now, a bridge too far even for the extremist Environmental Protection Agency under Biden.

But not for lack of trying. Notably absent from the Biden administration's Fall 2022 Unified Agenda of Regulatory and Deregulatory Actions, released on January 5, was any mention of earlier plans to implement a discretionary redesignation" of air-quality conditions in the Permian Basin. Biden's EPA had planned to assert that the region was in violation of federal ozone air-quality standards so that regulators could implement rules deterring oil drilling.

The Permian Basin, covering parts of west Texas and southeastern New Mexico, is the world's biggest oil field, which has produced more oil than any other place in the country's history. Hampering oil production in this vital region rich with one of the country's most valuable natural resources could have economically devastating results.

The Permian now has nearly as many active oil rigs as the rest of the U.S. combined, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), after energy companies have invested tens of billions of dollars into the region. The region allows Texas to produce $11.8 billion each year in value while creating more than 107,000 permanent jobs, according to a report published by the industry group North Texans for Natural Gas. Texas governor Greg Abbott summarized the potential impact of Biden's stalled EPA plans, noting they could have led to skyrocketing prices at the pump by reducing production, increase[d] the cost of that production, or do[ne] both."

Environmentalists who favor the abandoned Biden plans, such as James Kenney, a former EPA bureaucrat appointed by Democratic governor Michelle Lujan Grisham to serve as New Mexico's environment secretary, have argued that we need tougher rules, tougher permits and more enforcement of regulations on the local oil industry.

The wide-open spaces of West Texas and Eastern New Mexico are home to the oil and natural gas that fuel our economy and enhance modern life, Todd Staples, president of the Texas Oil & Gas Association, has opined in contrast. Excessive government regulation is unnecessary and stifles affordable and reliable energy supplies. He also noted that the energy industry in the Permian Basin has reduced emissions dramatically, including a 70 percent reduction in methane emissions since 2011.

While the vital source of American energy in west Texas may be safe for now, the Biden administration has intimated that it might revive its industry-destroying plans in the future. Biden's EPA said threateningly in an email to Bloomberg News that its planned Permian Basin environmental crackdown was merely paused and could be revived later.

While it is encouraging news that the Biden Administration has backed down on this disastrous plan, Texas remains ready to fight any job-killing attacks on our critical oil and gas industry, Abbott vowed in a statement showing awareness that the plans could be revived. Texas is – and always will be – a pro-energy state, and we will keep a watchful eye for any potential changes or attacks by President Biden that could jeopardize affordable energy prices and the livelihoods of hardworking Texans.

While the paused plans are ostensibly meant to fight air pollution, Texas has recently achieved several conservation feats, demonstrating that the state hardly needs federal bureaucrats' help when it comes to environmental stewardship. West Texas's environmental quality is so good that beavers have just returned to the region's high plains for the first time in 5,000 years. Bighorn sheep have also returned to west Texas after dying out in the 1960s, with over a thousand of them now roaming the Texas mountains.

Nevertheless, Biden's administration is considering legally declaring the little-known dunes sagebrush lizard to be endangered so that its habitat can be made off-limits to the oil and gas industries. This measure is being pursued at the behest of the environmentalist Center for Biological Diversity (CBD), which opposes all new construction, regardless of environmental impact. A decision is expected next year.

CBD has previously pursued legal action to block the creation of solar-energy farms for fear that they would inconvenience a total of 32 desert tortoises, and it even explicitly boasts on its website that it uses animals as an excuse to block oil and gas development. The Obama administration tried to use the same lizard to impede oil production.

Democrat presidents have continually weaponized the EPA against oil and gas production in the United States, especially production occurring in Republican-led states, says Texas state representative Brooks Landgraf. Under the Obama administration, the EPA tried to shut down Texas oil because of alleged threats posed to the obscure Sagebrush Lizard. Today Biden is using the agency and its unelected bureaucrats to wage war on Texas energy by pursuing [an air-quality] non-attainment designation of the Permian Basin without any real transparency or scientific basis.

If Biden's bureaucrats revive the air-quality crackdown plans or declare the obscure lizard endangered, the energy industry in the Permian Basin – and even global energy security – could be in peril. Perhaps what needs de-smogging is not the air of west Texas, but Biden's priorities.

But the Biden administration has intimated that it might revive its industry-destroying plans in the future.

Mr. Follett conducts research analysis for a nonprofit in the Washington, D.C., area. He previously worked as a space and science reporter for the Daily Caller News Foundation.

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Posted: January 13, 2023 Friday 06:30 AM