Drilling permits spiked then plunged under Biden

““The oil and gas industry has millions of acres leased … they could be drilling right now, yesterday, last week, last year,” Biden said last week. “They are not using them for production now. That’s their decision.”
For its part, industry has not leapt to expand drilling.

The major public oil and gas companies that drive much of the United States’ activity are holding themselves back with uncharacteristically miserly capital expense plans, returning cash to investors instead of drilling new wells. Officials with some companies say they are also facing bottlenecks for equipment, rigs and labor.

When it comes to public lands and waters, though, oil and gas companies have accused the White House of not truly supporting their industry and aiming to curb production.

Ryan McConnaughey, spokesperson for the Petroleum Association of Wyoming, said the Biden administration has a “playbook” for federal development: “delay, distract and deflect.”

“It doesn’t come as much of a surprise that the Biden Administration’s approval of APDs [applications for permit to drill] has plummeted,” he said.

Kathleen Sgamma, president of the Western Energy Alliance, said the political focus on the drilling permits and leases already held by industry is a red herring from the White House.

“Just because Acme O&G isn’t using a permit right away doesn’t mean that ABC O&G doesn’t need one for a well it’s planning to drill now,” she said. “If the federal permitting situation weren’t so inefficient and fraught with political interference, companies wouldn’t need to request a large inventory even years in advance.”

If the White House wants drilling to increase, they could ease regulatory requirements and speed up permitting, she said.

The permitting showdown is the latest of many disagreements over the federal oil program under Biden. When Biden came into office last year, he paused oil and gas leasing on federal lands and last fall published a report criticizing the program as antiquated and deferential to industry.

The leasing moratorium was overturned by a federal judge, but leasing has been slow to resume — and bogged down in continued legal wrangling. The outlook for new leasing in 2022 remains in limbo as Interior has said it will be difficult to move forward after a Louisiana federal judge blocked the use of an interim climate metric.

Meanwhile, Interior is developing regulations on oil and gas that will increase royalty rates and bonding requirements on federal leases, as well as impose new methane rules.

But the administration has also taken heat from environmental groups for focusing on these regulatory reforms rather than aggressively working to retire the oil and gas program.

Fossil fuels developed on federal lands, including coal, are responsible for as much as a quarter of the country’s downstream carbon dioxide emissions, according to the U.S. Geological Survey, a statistic that’s underscored criticism of continued drilling from environmental groups and climate activists.

Aaron Weiss, deputy director of the environmental group Center for Western Priorities, said the Biden administration has continued to “rubber stamp” drilling approvals.

“Even under Biden, 96 percent are getting approved versus 98 percent under Trump,” he said.

Weiss downplayed the impact of the permitting slowdown on industry, arguing that the number of permits issued doesn’t have an immediate correlation to industry’s ability to drill and that companies frequently allow permits to expire without being used. His organization counted 8,000 permits that oil companies had not used or had allowed to forfeit between 2016 and 2021.

“A slight dip in approvals makes no difference at all because APDs and available leases have never been a bottleneck,” he said.

With oil and gas companies exercising “fiscal discipline” to please investors, that’s even more the case, he said.”

Zoning Officials Stop Church From Opening 40-Bed Shelter in Sub-Zero Temperatures

“roughly 80 homeless people who live in the upstate community, and who have few options for escaping the dangerously frigid weather.

About half of those people could be housed on the second floor of a building owned by the city’s Free Methodist Church, where 40 empty beds sit ready to welcome people in from the cold.

Stopping that from happening are Gloversville’s zoning officials, who say that the commercial zoning of the church’s property and its downtown location prohibit it from hosting a cold weather shelter. Those empty beds will have to stay that way.

“The situation is dire up here and the city just refuses to let us open,” says Richard Wilkinson, the pastor of Gloversville’s Free Methodist Church. “It’s heartbreaking knowing there’s people out there.””

Biden’s Plan To Address Meat-Price Inflation Ignores That Federal Intervention Caused the Problem

“Many of the meat-industry problems the Biden administration identifies as in need of fixing are very real. For example, the administration says meat prices are through the roof. That’s true. The administration says the meatpacking industry is highly consolidated, with just four giant companies responsible for slaughtering and processing nearly 7 out of every 8 pounds of beef (and slightly lower amounts of pork and poultry) we eat every year. That’s true, too. (It was also largely true 20 years ago and 100 years ago.) The Biden administration has also argued large meatpackers have been busy “raising prices, underpaying farmers—and tripling their profit margins during the pandemic.” Also true.

The Biden administration believes meat prices are sky high due largely to this industry consolidation and lack of competition.”

“the real obstacle that’s preventing ranchers and farmers that utilize these facilities from supplying more meat to more Americans is an outdated federal law that props up the large processors while preventing local meat producers from selling steaks, roasts, and other cuts of meat to consumers in grocery stores, at farmers’ markets, and elsewhere in their communities.”

“farmers and ranchers who want to sell their meat commercially (or for it to be re-sold) in this country must have their livestock slaughtered in USDA-inspected (or state equivalent) slaughter facilities, where an inspector must be present and inspect every animal that’s slaughtered. In order to be sold commercially, meat from those same animals also must be processed (cut into steaks, ground up, cured, etc.) in a USDA-inspected processing facility. There’s a shortage of slaughter and processing facilities available to most small farmers and ranchers, and many plants are owned by a handful of large companies that don’t cater to those farmers and ranchers. As all this suggests, the current system poses a giant hurdle to many small farmers and ranchers.”

“As a fix, the Biden administration proposes, under a wordy header announced this week—the Biden-Harris Administration’s Action Plan for a Fairer, More Competitive, and More Resilient Meat and Poultry Supply Chain—to give $1 billion to smaller meat processors so that they can ramp up their production efforts, which would in theory provide farmers and ranchers with more choices for slaughter and processing. The plan also includes other elements, including “launching a new portal to allow farmers and ranchers to report unfair trade practices by meatpackers.””

“The USDA has been aware of many of the aforementioned problems with its meat-inspection scheme for decades. As I explain in my book, Biting the Hands that Feed Us: How Fewer, Smarter Laws Would Make Our Food System More Sustainable, when the agency commissioned a study 10 years ago to look at ways to streamline these regulations, the authors of the study concluded “that no one with the USDA or . . . working as professionals within the meat industry believe[s] that streamlining regulations will ever occur.”

Righteous pessimism hasn’t stopped people who care about small farmers and the livestock they raise from trying to come up with various fixes. The PRIME Act, a tremendous bill that has repeatedly failed to pass Congress, would, I explained in a piece in the The Hill in 2018, “provide states with the option to regulate livestock slaughter and sale within their borders.” Local solutions exist, too, but the federal government largely ignores or seeks to undermine them. States such as Wyoming and Colorado that have sought to use federal law to foster more local competition have bumped up against threats from overzealous USDA bureaucrats.”

California’s weed market should be flourishing. But bureaucracy is blunting it.

“Complicated local rules, understaffed city departments and slow communication with state regulators have made starting a weed business in California a protracted and risky ordeal. Red tape and paralyzing legal battles are stunting the market’s growth, leaving aspiring entrepreneurs in cities such as Los Angeles, Pasadena and Fresno waiting months or even years for permission to open, often while leasing empty storefronts.”

Mail-Order Abortion Pills, Now Officially Authorized by the FDA, Pose an Insoluble Problem for Legislators Who Want To Ban the Procedure

“The Food and Drug Administration (FDA)..announced that it is permanently loosening restrictions on the abortion-inducing drug mifepristone, allowing women to receive it by mail after a telemedicine session. The FDA had already used its enforcement discretion to allow that practice for the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic. The new policy preserves the option, which will play an increasingly important role as many states impose new restrictions on abortion, especially if the Supreme Court decides that the Constitution does not protect access to the procedure after all.
The FDA first approved mifepristone, a.k.a. RU-486 and Mifeprex, in 2000. The standard protocol for a medical abortion currently involves a dose of mifepristone, which thins the lining of the uterus by blocking the effects of progesterone, followed one or two days later by a dose of misoprostol, which causes uterine contractions. The FDA has approved the use of that regimen up to 10 weeks into a pregnancy. In 2019, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 79 percent of abortions in the United States were performed at nine weeks or earlier.

The FDA originally required that mifepristone be dispensed in person by a medical provider. An FDA-approved research project launched in 2016, the TelAbortion Study, aimed to assess the safety and efficacy of prescribing the drug based on “a video evaluation over the internet.” The program expanded during the pandemic, eventually including 17 states and the District of Columbia. According to a TelAbortion report published last March, covering nearly 1,400 packages of pills mailed from May 2016 through September 2000, “this direct-to-patient telemedicine service was safe, effective, and acceptable, and supports the claim that there is no medical reason for mifepristone to be dispensed in clinics as required by the Food and Drug Administration.””

Mexico’s ‘Junk Food’ Warning Labels Are Junk

“Mexico’s controversial, year-old, mandatory, front-of-package food warning label law was supposed to help Mexicans make healthier food choices and slash sky-high obesity rates in the country.

The law, which took effect one year ago this week, “requires black informational octagons to be placed on packaged foods that are high in saturated fat, trans fat, sugar, sodium[,] or calories.” Other requirements include that any food which must bear the dreaded black octagon “cannot include children’s characters, animations, cartoons, or images of celebrities, athletes[,] or pets on their packaging.”

Many food producers inside and outside Mexico opposed the labeling law, arguing it’s misleading, burdensome, and paternalistic. The Mexican government, though, claimed the law would lead Mexicans to eat 37 fewer calories per day, which would theoretically result in an average Mexican losing nearly four pounds per year. Some outside Mexico supported the labeling scheme, too. Last year, for example, a World Health Organization (WHO) regional office gushed over the black octagons and gave the Mexican government an award, calling the labels a “public health innovation” that is the “most advanced and comprehensive regulation worldwide.”

But early returns suggest the law’s impact has been negligible at best.

“More than a year after Mexico’s food warning label law took effect, sales of junk food and sugary beverages have not declined significantly, according to a market research firm and a business group,” Mexico News Daily reported last week. “In fact, sales of unhealthy products have increased in some cases, data shows.”

That’s the conclusion of a Mexico-based market research group, Kantar México, which tracks food purchases made by thousands of Mexican households each week. Mexico News Daily also notes that a Mexican government agency says purchases of treats such as candy, chocolates, and soda were higher this past September than they were in September 2020—the same month the WHO rewarded the Mexican government for its purportedly innovative efforts.

Despite the fact the law’s not working as advocates hoped and claimed it would, last week’s Mexico News Daily report notes a Mexican government official praised the labeling scheme as a success because “[c]onsumers are now more informed and empowered to make better choices.””

Food Trucks Still Being Squeezed Out by Local Governments

“Detroit’s city council introduced new rules that will allow food trucks to operate in more parts of the city beginning next spring.

“From an equity standpoint and from a food access standpoint, we believe food trucks should be able to operate in public spaces across the city,” city councilor Raquel Castañeda-Lopez, who introduced the measure, told the Detroit Free Press.”

“While words such as “fairness and harmony” and “equitably” make for a nice word salad, they mask the true, protectionist spirit underlying the new ordinance.

“Food trucks must be 200 feet away from existing restaurants and 300 feet from entertainment and sports arena areas,” the Freep report indicates, also noting that food trucks may no longer operate after 11 p.m. That’s progress?

Maybe to Larson, whose nebulous, we kinda sorta like it remarks aren’t a huge surprise, given that Downtown Detroit Partnership’s member list includes a host of giant companies and traditional food-truck opponents—including brick-and-mortar restaurateurs and the realty groups that rent space to them.

Indeed, in discussions of expanding food truck access to other parts of Detroit—or any city or town in America—the devil’s in the details.”

Two Courts Debunk Widely Accepted Opioid Myths

“Since 2014, state and local governments have filed thousands of lawsuits against pharmaceutical companies they blame for causing the “opioid crisis” by exaggerating the benefits and minimizing the risks of prescription pain medication. The theory underlying these cases is pretty straightforward: Drug manufacturers lied, and people died.

Two recent rulings—one by a California judge, the other by the Oklahoma Supreme Court—show how misleading this widely accepted narrative is. Both decisions recognize that undertreatment of pain is a real problem and that bona fide patients rarely become addicted to prescription opioids, let alone die as a result.”