An Oklahoma congressman blasted the U.S. Department of Agriculture today for its proposal to suspend loans to rural homeowners and business owners with oil and gas leases.
The USDA has become nervous that the Rural Housing Service Program, which last year provided over $18 billion in loans to more than 140,000 families, and the USDA Rural Business and Cooperative Program, which provided $1 billion in loans and grants to 15,000 rural businesses last year, may violate the National Environmental Policy Act, which calls for an environmental review before federal dollars can be spent.
“Subjecting these loans to an expensive NEPA study will also jeopardize our nation’s progress towards energy independence,” Rep. Dan Boren (D-Okla.) said. “Homeowners and businesses should not be punished for permitting energy leases on their land.”
Boren, a Blue Dog Democrat, noted in a letter to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack that federal housing loans have traditionally been exempt from NEPA. The leasing suspension would occur while the USDA determines how to budget environmental reviews.
“To change now and to require the additional resources, time, and man power to conduct an environmental review every time an individual or business with an oil or gas lease applies for a federal home loan would not only burden the loan applicant, but also the federal government itself,” Boren wrote. “Our economy is in jeopardy and now is not the time to spend when it is unnecessary.”
He said that if homeowners are forced to choose between their houses and their mineral leases, this could further stymie domestic production.
The pressure on the administration comes in advance of President Obama’s Thursday trip to Cushing, Okla., where he will battle criticism that the White House has put up barriers to oil and gas exploration.
One of the most conservative Democrats in Congress, Boren is not seeking re-election this fall.