Oil and gas industry lobbyist turned GOP House candidate blames Biden for high prices

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New York Republican Mike Lawler is pushing for more fossil fuel production in the face of climate change.

New York Republican state Assembly Member Mike Lawler is running to represent the state's 17th Congressional District on promises of more fossil fuel drilling. But while he complains about gas prices, he has said little about his work as a lobbyist for the oil and gas industry that sets those prices.

Lawler is challenging Democratic Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney in the November midterm elections. The Cook Political Report lists the race as a toss-up.

During an Oct. 19 campaign event at a gas station in Yorktown, New York, Lawler blamed President Joe Biden and other Democrats for the high price of gasoline.

"As we head into the fall and on towards winter, we're seeing, again, a spike in gas prices across the country, especially here in New York state. And we're seeing a spike in home heating costs," he told supporters. "When you look at the policies that have been enacted, under the Biden administration and under Gov. Kathy Hochul, they have sought to restrict domestic production of gas and oil. They have sought to restrict domestic production of energy and they have created a mess."

This is not the first time he's blamed high fuel prices on Democrats. In a July ad, his campaign charged, "Biden's disastrous energy plan has resulted in punishing gas prices" while urging voters to stop electing supporters of Biden's "failed agenda."

Gasoline prices have been dropping in recent weeks after reaching record highs earlier this year, but they remain a challenge for many Americans. Contrary to GOP claims, most observers say high prices are the result of the COVID-19 pandemic, Russia's invasion of Ukraine, and recent cuts to production by oil exporters in the Middle East and around the globe — not Biden's energy policy.

Major gasoline companies have made record profits in 2022, charging customers well above their costs. House Democrats passed a bill in May to combat price gouging, but it stalled in the Senate, where the GOP minority can block most legislation with even just the threat of a filibuster.

The energy policy section of Lawler's campaign website suggests that he wants to "protect the natural beauty of the Hudson Valley while ensuring energy costs don't spiral out of control due to a radical climate agenda":

As a strong proponent of expanded domestic energy production, including clean natural gas, Mike believes America must pursue an "all-of-the-above" energy policy that strikes a balance between a push for renewable and alternative energies, with the reality that pie-in-the-sky promises to end the use of all fossil fuels within the next 10-15 years threaten to drive energy costs even higher, representing a regressive tax on those who can least afford it at a time when inflation is surging to its highest levels in 40 years.

But he makes no mention of the dire threat presented by climate change or the need for drastic action to curb it. An August 2021 report by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change delivered a "code red" warning of catastrophic results unless the world takes immediate and major action to reduce carbon emissions.

And he also makes no mention of his own history of working for the oil and gas industry.

According to his July 15 House candidate financial disclosure report, he has made thousands of dollars since January 2021 lobbying for the Albany, New York-based interest group New Yorkers for Affordable Energy.

His 2020 ethics disclosure as a New York state legislator lists him as a director of the group.

According to the coalition's website, it is a group of "community, labor, business and industry leaders from across the state who support greater access to clean, reliable and affordable sources of energy for residential and business consumers," especially natural gas. It lists several oil and gas industry businesses among its "contributing members," including the New York affiliate of the American Petroleum Council.

The coalition did not immediately respond to an inquiry about Lawler's employment.

In an August 2020 opinion piece for USA Today Network publications, Lawler complained on behalf of the group that environmentalists were pushing to tightly regulate natural gas in New York state, writing, "The basic thrust of their argument is that in order to meet climate targets and reach net zero emissions by 2050, gas use must decline. This is contrary to reality and discounts the tremendous reduction in carbon emissions that have been made over the last two decades because of natural gas."

He also lobbied for approval of the Northeast Supply Enhancement Pipeline, which would transport fracked gas from Pennsylvania to New York City Long Island, and which state regulators blocked in May 2020 over clean water and climate concerns.

"While we support New York State's efforts to implement clean energy goals and increase the use of renewable energy sources, we must be realistic about the technological limitations of renewable energy and honest about the high costs of renewables and the benefits of natural gas," Lawler's coalition wrote at the time.

As a political candidate, Lawler has taken thousands of dollars from oil and gas interests, including $5,800 from billionaire John Catsimatidi, the chair and CEO of United Refining, and $2,500 from Joseph Armentano, the CEO of Paraco Gas.

The Lawler campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment for this story.

The campaign site of Democratic incumbent Maloney says that he is a "champion for our planet, fighting to combat climate change and to protect our local environment here in the Hudson Valley," noting his work "to pass transformative legislation through Congress that would cut carbon emissions in half by 2030."

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.