Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on Tuesday failed to slow down the House Republican push for new oil and gas leases on federal land, after GOP lawmakers shot down her attempt to require further study of the public health impacts of energy extraction.
The House National Resources Committee met Tuesday to adopt its work plan for the new Congress. Included in that plan is language that says the Biden administration has leased fewer federal acres for oil and gas development than “any presidential administration” since the end of World War II.
“The Committee will examine the lack of oil and natural gas leasing on federal lands in the western United States, including focusing on administrative actions that have created permitting delays and disincentivized production on federal lands,” the committee’s plan said.
Before adopting the plan, Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., offered an amendment that would require the committee to collect “public health data and other impacts of new drilling on federal lands.”
“There is a failure to acknowledge the disproportionate impact that these changes have on communities of color and other frontline communities,” Ocasio-Cortez said. She added that there should be “no objection to gathering better data on the health impact of these policies.”
But Republicans pushed back and said her proposal ignores the health benefits that energy development has delivered to people for generations.
“How can you ignore the millions of people around the Earth that have had clean water, indoor plumbing, lights, electricity provided to them, making their lives better, extending, literally extending their life span, lifting them out of poverty by having access to electricity that’s been provided by coal, oil, gas, or other fossil fuels?” said Rep. Matt Rosendale, R-Mont.
“It simply can’t be ignored – their lives are better, their lives are longer as a direct result of that,” he said. “So to sit there and to say that we should be trying to eliminate these fuels is absolutely absurd, ridiculous.”
Rep. Thomas Tiffany, R-Wis., pressed that point by asking Ocasio-Cortez if her amendment would require a study of all health impacts, good and bad, or just the bad ones.
“I do not dispute the inclusion of any positive health impacts,” Ocasio-Cortez replied. “But of course, there is a large degree of concerning information about potential health impacts, breathing impacts, cancer exposure, etc.”
Tiffany replied that her response made it clear she’s only interested in the negative health effects of drilling.
“I will not be able to support this amendment because there was a ‘but’ in there, in the answer,” he said. “It is not focusing on also the good things that have happened…”
Other Republicans similarly saw the amendment as an effort to block new leasing on federal lands. Rep. Lauren Boebert, R-Colo., mocked the amendment as an attempt to force climate change theory into the GOP’s effort to ensure the U.S. controls its destiny and shores up its national security by ensuring ample energy supplies.
“I’m not here to deny climate change, I don’t think anyone here is,” Boebert said. “It happens four times every year, we’re very, very much aware of that.”
Ocasio-Cortez stressed that her amendment is not a proposal to “stop drilling.” She said her amendment language is neutral and that it could allow a study on both the positive and negative health impacts of drilling and said it’s critical to consider this factor for families.
“I have visited with families who say that they will be near an extraction site, and at different times of the day their lungs start burning,” Ocasio-Cortez said. “I personally represent an area of the country that has some of the highest childhood asthma rates in the world.”
“People deserve to know if they’re being poisoned, people deserve to know if there is no health impact,” she added.
The chairman of the committee, Rep. Bruce Westerman, R-Ark., closed the debate by saying his committee would be crossing into the jurisdiction of other committees if it accepted Ocasio-Cortez’s amendment.
“The gentlelady almost had me with this amendment,” Westerman said. “We all care about public health, we all care about safety. I think that’s our duties as members of Congress.”
Ocasio-Cortez’s amendment failed to be adopted as part of the committee’s work plan in a party-line 15-21 vote.