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Cathy Rodgers McMorris

What Does Trump’s Interior Department Pick Mean for Energy Development on Federal Lands?

Cathy Rodgers McMorrisPresident-elect Donald Trump will nominate Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) to lead the Department of the Interior, according to reports.

McMorris Rogers, who serves on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, is a proponent of hydropower and author of the 2013 Hydropower Regulatory Efficiency Act. She also co-chairs the Northwest Energy Caucus and is the founder of the Hydropower Caucus.

McMorris Rodgers is also a proponent of forest management reform.

As Morning Consult reports, McMorris Rodgers has opposed attempts to regulate greenhouse gas emissions and also was a co-sponsor of a bill introduced in 2011 to sell off about 3 million acres of federal land.

Like other Trump cabinet picks such as EPA chief Scott Pruitt, McMorris Rodgers is a climate skeptic, Reuters reports, citing her criticism of Obama’s climate regulations and her statement that former Vice President Al Gore’s global warming advocacy work deserved an “F” in science and an “A” in creative writing.

Because of this, and McMorris Rodgers’ support for expanded energy development on federal lands, environmental groups have criticized Trump’s choice.

David Festa, senior vice president for ecosystems at Environmental Defense Fund, said the nomination “does not inspire confidence.”

“In Congress, Rep. McMorris Rodgers has, among other things, voted to open up our public lands and waters to widespread oil and gas production and end the congressional ban on selling public lands for private gain,” Festa said.

The American Sustainable Business Council, whose member organizations represents more than 250,000 businesses, also expressed concern.

“Coal and fracking companies will now expect free reign over the nation’s public lands with the nomination of Rep. McMorris Rodgers,” said David Levine, CEO of ASBC. “We are concerned that the fossil fuel industry will be encouraged to exploit these resources without meaningful oversight.”

The National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, on the other hand, praised Trump’s choice and said electric cooperatives have a “terrific working relationship” with McMorris Rodgers.

“Electric cooperatives work closely with the Interior Department on a number of issues, including co-op land-use activities,” said NRECA CEO Jim Matheson. “The Department plays a key role in balancing the need to protect the nation’s natural resources with co-ops’ ability to maintain reliable and affordable electric service. Once confirmed, we look forward to working with Rep. McMorris Rodgers to advance these crucial goals.”

On the campaign trail and on his transition team website, Trump has said his goal is to make America energy independent, turning the country into an energy exporter, which he says will create millions of new jobs.

“Rather than continuing the current path to undermine and block America’s fossil fuel producers, the Trump Administration will encourage the production of these resources by opening onshore and offshore leasing on federal lands and waters,” according to Trump’s website. “We will streamline the permitting process for all energy projects, including the billions of dollars in projects held up by President Obama, and rescind the job-destroying executive actions under his Administration.”

So what does McMorris Rodgers mean for US companies?

Attorney Christopher Carr, who chairs Morrison & Foerster’s environmental and energy group, told Environmental Leader that it likely means less regulation and more energy development, both from fossil fuel and renewable sources.

“Corporations, by and large, are likely to be elated, especially those interested in greater access to public lands,” Carr said. “McMorris represents a district in eastern Washington where there are a lot of federal lands and the economy has historically been based on resources and agriculture. So she knows the relationship between regulation and economic development, and can be expected to be concerned not to unduly hamstring industry.”

McMorris Rodgers can also be expected to support on- and off-shore oil and gas drilling on public lands — last month the Interior Department blocked the sale of new leases for offshore oil and gas drilling in the Arctic Ocean between 2017 and 2022 — and to try to end the Obama administration’s moratorium on coal development on federal lands, Carr said.

“The latter would be a largely symbolic change, simply because utilities and other energy industry players have moved on from coal,” he said. “The former will be highly controversial, but whether it results in substantial increases in gas and oil production will be determined by the economic forces of the energy market.

“McMorris is an ardent supporter of hydropower and biomass, and so can be expected to encourage those agencies in DOI that either own the land on which such resources occur or are involved in their licensing and permitting to be helpful to their further development. When it comes to renewable energy — and especially solar and wind — we should expect that McMorris’ appointment can only provide upside, whether it’s development of those energy resources on public lands or on private lands.”

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