WASHINGTON — Senate Republicans on Tuesday used an Interior Department nomination hearing to criticize the Biden administration’s role in validating new oil and gas leases.

“We have higher energy prices here because this administration has kind of led an effort to limit production and development of North American resources,” said Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La. “That is the so far legacy of this administration.”


Laura Daniel-Davis appeared before the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources  in September but the committee deadlocked on her nomination. 


“Ms. Daniel-Davis has been doing everything she could to undermine American energy production,” said ranking member Sen. John Barrasso, D-Wyo., after voting against her nomination last year.


A federal court in Louisiana in June struck down the Biden administration’s pause on new leases. In compliance with this ruling, the Interior held Gulf of Mexico lease sale 257 in November. Two months later, a U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., invalidated the sale, requiring Interior to assess the environmental impact before proceeding. 


Daniel-Davis said there is no timeline for the department’s validation of the sale because it must first begin the process to cure the defects identified by the court.


“I’m a little frustrated, as you might guess, as are the workers in my state who will not have jobs because of this deliberate foot dragging by the administration,” Cassidy said. 


Sen. Mike Lee asked Daniel-Davis how her department’s oil and gas report factors into Biden’s “promise to ban new oil and gas permitting on public lands and waters.”


“The leasing process is underway onshore and offshore and the report as developed and released provides specific recommendations associated with a leasing program,” Daniel-Davis said. “I’m not in a position to speak for the president. I can just tell you what we’re doing at the Department of Interior.”  


Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith, R-Miss., asked Daniel-Davis about her stance on pausing lease sales. She referenced a report released under the Obama administration, which concluded that without U.S. oil and gas leases, net greenhouse gas emissions would increase as Americans turned to imported oil produced in countries with less environmental controls. 


“Why is the administration so determined on constricting domestic production and forcing us to rely on adversaries for our emergency stockpile?” Hyde-Smith said. “Please make that make sense to me.”


Daniel-Davis responded by pointing to what Interior Secretary Deb Haaland told the committee during her last appearance. 


“Oil and gas will be a part of America’s energy signature for a while as we move toward a more clean energy economy,” Daniel-Davis said. “With production ongoing, and so many permits available to drill, onshore and offshore production. I feel like we’re in a position where there is a lot of production activity that can continue.”


Daniel-Davis gave the Mississippi Republican the same answer that she told several GOP senators concerned about what pausing new leases would mean for domestic production, jobs and gas prices. 


“I want to reiterate that leasing is ongoing, onshore and offshore,” she said. “As far as permitting, that, too, has been ongoing.”


Chairman Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., reiterated his support of Daniel-Davis. “She had my support last year, she has my support this year,” Manchin said. 


He added that the Trump administration often acted “too hastily” with leases resulting in courts striking many of them down. Now, he said the committee’s goal is to work with the Interior to identify problems with future leasing.