An announcement over the Thanksgiving holiday caused Louisiana’s Republican congressional delegation to go after Democratic President Joe Biden — an attack that also underscored the state’s political vulnerability on energy issues.
It all started when the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control gave Chevron Corp., based in San Ramon, California, license to drill for a modest amount of oil and natural gas in Venezuela.
The announcement was couched in humanitarian terms, ostensibly to ease suffering among the Venezuelan people caused by U.S. human rights sanctions. The country’s brutal dictator, Nicolas Maduro, recently made noises about meeting with opposition leaders.
But the backstory is that the administration has been discussing since March how Venezuela could increase production. That country’s crumbling infrastructure produces about 800,000 barrels per day. In the 1990s, Venezuela produced about 3 million barrels per day.
Biden wants to increase the supply of oil and thus lower the price of gasoline while also adhering to his campaign promise to work toward weaning the U.S. off carbon-producing fossil fuels that are hastening global warming.
Underscoring the importance of drilling and refining to Louisiana’s economy, Republicans in the congressional delegation vented on social media and Fox television.
“The answer is right beneath our feet! How infuriating is it?” a Fox Business journalist asked U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-Baton Rouge.
“It really is infuriating,” Cassidy replied. “This administration has chosen to focus only on carbon emissions, which means we get more carbon emissions — they’re burning coal in Europe because we can’t supply them with gas and oil — while at the same time we lose jobs here.”
During his turn on Fox, Sen. John N. Kennedy, R-Madisonville, said: “The incongruity of all of this is we could get rid of all oil and gas in America tomorrow and it would not lower world temperatures a scintilla of a degree because China and India and sub-Saharan Africa and South America are going to continue to use fossil fuels and emit CO2.”
U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise, R-Jefferson, said in an interview that once in power, Republicans would forward bills to fill the oil shortage and lower prices at the pump, which in turn would weaken inflation. Specific bills that address permitting, pipelines, and leasing likely will be among the first legislation out of the gate when the Republican majority takes administrative control of the House on Jan. 3.
But for the first time in who knows how many years, Louisiana’s delegation won’t have a seat at the table where such legislation is considered. With Scalise’s ascendance to House majority leader, the number two post, he’ll have to step down from the House Committee on Energy and Commerce.
It’s not “Louisiana’s seat”, but someone from the delegation has been on the committee since oil and natural gas oversight was added to its duties almost a century ago. If Louisiana’s delegation pushes one of its own for a seat on the committee, the question is who? And how?
U.S. Rep. Garret Graves, R-Baton Rouge, is in line to chair the House Select Committee on Climate Crisis, if the panel continues in the new Congress. He also is a ranking member on the subcommittee for aviation and a likely chair of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure in a couple of years.
Rep. Clay Higgins, R-Lafayette, is ranking member of the subcommittee on border security and is interested in chairing the House Committee on Homeland Security committee.
U.S. Rep. Mike Johnson, R-Benton, is the ranking member of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, meaning he could very well chair a panel whose subject matter is right in his Constitutional law wheelhouse.
Rep. Julia Letlow, R-Start, recently secured a seat on the Appropriations Committee, also important to Louisiana.
That leaves New Orleans Rep. Troy Carter, the state’s only Democratic congressman, who joined the House 18 months ago. He’s on the House Transportation committee.
But Carter raises the question of whether his Republican colleagues would rally around their Democratic colleague.
As these decisions are being deliberated right now behind closed doors, members of Louisiana’s delegation — including Carter — are tight-lipped.
But the untimely death Monday of 61-year-old Congressman Donald McEachin, a Democratic committee member from Virginia, could provide an avenue to press Carter, if he wants the post, onto the energy committee without the delegation having to appear to favor a Democratic member over a Republican.