Democrat Katie Porter says to target Big Oil in new role as natural resources chair

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Representative Katie Porter, who has earned a reputation for grilling bank and drug company executives during Congressional hearings, told Reuters she will focus on a new target in her new role as chair of the House Natural Resources Oversight Committee: Big Oil.

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The position will make the California Democrat a key player in U.S. energy policy as President Joe Biden puts curbs on federal fossil fuel development at the center of a plan to fight climate change.

Biden paused new federal oil and gas leases, source of about a quarter of U.S. petroleum production, shortly after taking office in a move widely seen as a first step toward delivering on his campaign promise of a permanent ban.

Porter is one of several Democratic lawmakers that introduced a set of bills this week to reform federal oil and gas leasing regulations, including by raising royalty rates for the first time in a century - proposals that could impact existing leases even if new leases are eventually phased out.

“How can things not have gone up as I see the cost of my everyday expenses -- healthcare, childcare, college, housing -- all go up?” Porter said. “This is not a coincidence. This takes intense lobbying work by the fossil fuel industry to prevent these changes.”

Porter introduced a bill that would boost the amount oil companies must pay on their federal onshore production to 18.75% from 12%, a rate that has not changed since 1920, and also increase minimum bids in lease auctions to $5 per acre from $2.

“I confess when I first heard the term ‘oil and gas royalty rates’ I didn’t immediately feel a deep emotional sort of reaction to fighting the issue. But as I began to understand what’s really at stake, which is oil and gas companies taking our public resources at pennies on the dollar, I began to feel outraged,” she said.

A second-term Congresswoman from California, Porter has become a social media sensation after her rapid-fire grilling of powerful executives over issues like compensation and drugs pricing.

She is perhaps best known for scrawling on what Twitter dubbed her “whiteboard of truth” during committee meetings -a prop she will use in her new oversight role.

Porter said that as a professor who taught classes about bankruptcy, she enjoys teaching esoteric policy and making it real for people.

“Our public lands are not a speculative investment,” she said. “They are a national treasure.”

Reporting by Nichola Groom in Los Angeles and Valerie Volcovici in Washington; Editing by Lisa Shumaker