In a potential blockbuster, lawmakers in the House and Senate have agreed to attach 68 bills on natural resources -- namely on public lands and energy issues -- to the nation's annual defense authorization bill, which appears headed toward quick passage with strong bipartisan support.
The House Committee on Rules held a hearing Wednesday to discuss the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), officially S 1847, for fiscal year 2015.
In a joint statement, Sens. Carl Levin (D-MI) and Jim Inhofe (R-OK) said the House planned to pass the NDAA without any changes and would send it to the Senate by the end of the week. Levin currently serves as chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, while Inhofe serves as its ranking member.
"The bill also includes a bipartisan, bicameral package of public lands provisions that was worked out by the chairmen and ranking members of the Natural Resources Committees in the Senate and the House of Representatives," Levin and Inhofe said. "These provisions have been under consideration for several years and there is strong support in both houses for including them in our bill."
According to the House Committee on Rules, the 68 natural resources bills attached to the NDAA are listed under Title 30 -- Natural Resources Related General Provisions. Two of the provisions would affect the oil and natural gas industry.
The first, Section 3021, would extend an existing program at the U.S. Department of Interior's (DOI) Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to improve the permitting process. It also sets the oil and gas permit processing fee at a flat rate of 10 years and adjusts the interest rate paid on royalty overpayments.
Under the second bill, Section 3022, the DOI would be authorized to hold Internet auctions for onshore oil and gas lease sales, something now done for Gulf of Mexico lease sales.
Most of the remaining 66 natural resource-related bills involve public land issues. Section 3065 would establish the 208,160-acre Rocky Mountain Front Conservation Management Area in Montana on federal lands administered by the U.S. Forest Service and the BLM. Another, Section 3063, would withdraw about 362,000 acres of federal lands in Montana from public land, mining and mineral leasing laws.
"I am pleased that after weeks of negotiations, we have reached a bipartisan and bicameral agreement to advance this series of public lands bills," Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), the top Republican on the Senate Energy Committee, said Wednesday. "We have worked hard to develop a balanced package that will increase resource production and provide new economic opportunities for western communities."
Republicans are poised to take control of the Senate in January, after midterm elections in November. The GOP also strengthened its control of the House.