I’ve nothing against the lesser prairie chicken. In fact, it’s a rather nice-looking member of the grouse family. From the pictures I’ve seen, I actually prefer it — aesthetics-wise, anyway — to the greater prairie chicken.
I’m curious, however, why President Joe Biden seems poised to make the bird yet another flash-point in his administration’s war on energy workers.
It almost seems like a perverse version of Zuzu Bailey’s immortal line from “It’s a Wonderful Life”: Every time President Biden makes a gaffe, an energy worker loses his job.
Biden confuses the Tuskegee syphilis experiment with the Tuskegee airmen, as he did last week? Whoops, there goes another pipeline permit. Biden referring to the president of South Korea as prime minister and the prime minister of Israel as the president, all in the space of two days? Time to close down a coal mine. (Don’t worry, John Kerry says they can all get jobs making solar panels.)
And yet, even with Biden’s gaffe rate, you couldn’t even make it work. On day one of his presidency, he killed the Keystone XL pipeline, costing over 10,000 jobs. His unrealistic pledge to cut carbon emissions by half by 2030 as part of the United States’ re-entry to the Paris agreement could cost millions of jobs, and the energy sector will bear the brunt. And then there’s the lesser prairie chicken.
According to The Washington Post, the Biden administration moved Wednesday to protect some of the bird’s population under the Endangered Species Act — specifically, the population in Texas and New Mexico. Northern populations in Oklahoma and Kansas weren’t listed because their numbers were determined to have declined less drastically.
— The Hill (@thehill) May 26, 2021
The problem is that population overlaps with the Permian Basin, an oil-and-gas-rich area — meaning more energy jobs could be lost. In the proposed listing, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service put specific blame on the petroleum industry for contributing to habitat loss.
“Petroleum and natural gas production result in both direct and indirect habitat effects to the lesser prairie-chicken,” the report stated.
“Well pad construction, seismic surveys, access road development, power line construction, pipeline corridors, and other activities can all result in direct habitat loss by removal of vegetation used by lesser prairie-chickens. As documented in other grouse species, indirect habitat loss also occurs from avoidance of vertical structures, noise, and human presence … which all can influence lesser prairie-chicken behavior in the general vicinity of oil and gas development areas. These activities also disrupt lesser prairie chicken reproductive behavior.”
The report added that oil-and-gas development “activities have resulted in decreases in population resiliency and species redundancy.”
The listing would have a serious impact on energy exploration in the area. The Post noted that, should the listing be approved, it would “probably would impose restrictions on new development such as oil and gas drilling as well as renewable energy projects across a swath of the birds’ range.”
“I think it could have a substantial impact on oil and gas and energy development,” Wayne D’Angelo, a lawyer with the firm Kelley Drye & Warren, told The Post. His firm has represented energy concerns on similar issues.
“It’s a threat that sort of kills investment and causes problems” if the landholder changes the bird’s habitat in any way, D’Angelo said.
Republican senators, including Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma, wrote to Interior Secretary Deb Haaland earlier in the month, imploring her not to list the bird as endangered.
“We strongly believe it would be imprudent and harmful to ongoing and unprecedented conservation efforts in our states for the [Fish and Wildlife] Service to issue what would amount to a premature [Endangered Species Act] listing proposal,” Inhofe wrote in the letter.
The decision on the lesser prairie chicken isn’t final yet. According to the Post, it won’t be made until the end of the year after the public has a chance to comment. But the administration’s choice is already clear.
As Breitbart noted, choking development in the area would also be, in some ways, a reversal of former President Donald Trump’s decision to open up public land for oil and gas drilling, including in the Permian Basin.
This isn’t necessarily incidental, either.
“Biden has targeted Trump’s energy and environmental policies or proposed one of his own at the rate of about one a day, according to a Washington Post analysis,” the newspaper reported.
But are we to be surprised?
To the Biden administration, a population of the lesser prairie chicken — not just the species as a whole, but merely a portion of it in an energy-rich part of the country — is more important than oil and gas jobs, no matter what the ongoing conservation efforts might be. That’s the priority.
The administration won’t seek a balance between the bird’s habitat and energy workers’ livelihoods because it hasn’t shown the slightest interest in this in any other similar circumstance. Just ask the Keystone XL Pipeline workers who were laid off.
Those livelihoods, after all, pale in comparison to scoring political points.
Attaboy, Mr. President!
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