Sen. Joe Manchin (W.Va.) left Interior Secretary Deb Haaland stumbling on Thursday after confronting her with a statement released by the Interior Department.
What is the background?
Haaland was testifying before the Senate Energy Committee to address the agency's proposed budget. But considering the energy crisis and record-high gas prices, oil and gas were the hot topics at the hearing, especially in light of the Biden administration's hostility toward fossil fuels.
At issue was the fact that the Interior Department has delayed issuing a new five-year program for offshore oil and gas auctions. The department is required by law to produce such a program, but has blamed the Trump administration for causing the delay.
What happened with Manchin?
During Haaland's testimony, the Interior Department released a statement explaining the next program proposal will be released on June 30, the same day the current program expires.
Manchin received a copy of the press release during the hearing, and he immediately confronted Haaland over an alarming detail contained in the statement.
"Secretary Haaland, you all just put out a statement, the U.S. Department of Interior just put out a statement, and the statement basically says, 'A proposed program is not a decision to issue specific leases or to authorize any drilling or development,'" Manchin said.
"This is from y'all's office,'" he explained. "So it looks like you are gonna shut everything down. Did you know y'all put this out?"
"I, I, I, I — I'm sorry, I'm sitting in this hearing, and not —" Haaland stumbled.
"My God — this shuts it down," Manchin shot back. "It shows what your intent is."
Interior Sec. Haaland Confronted On Anti-Energy Memo Released During Hearing: “This Shuts It Down” www.youtube.com
After Manchin pressed further, Haaland claimed the document is not saying the Interior Department will not issue oil leases, despite Manchin reading directly from the Interior Department's press release.
Manchin then chided Haaland over the Interior Department's decision to delay proposing a new auction program.
"We’re getting this at the last possible day, the last possible minute, knowing that there’s other steps to go through," Manchin said. 'The timing is not right that you’ve taken as long as you possibly could."
Later in the hearing, Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) managed to force Haaland to admit that, even with a new leasing auction program, there is no actual deadline to begin new drilling.
"That’s the concern, actually, that all of us have, that there's actually no deadline," Lankford scolded. "That the proposal to talk about it is coming on the date that it should be done, and that this is going to stretch out for the next two, three years of talking about it."