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Group Unveils Wish List for Energy Legislation

An energy and research group Tuesday released its wish list for energy legislation, calling for greater access to oil- and natural gas-rich resources on federal and state lands, removal of barriers to shale gas development, more regulatory certainty, expedited action on permit applications and congressional approval of energy regulations that have a major impact on the economy.

The proposals are outlined in Washington, DC-based Institute for Energy Research's (IER) "model" legislation, the American Energy Act of 2011. "For decades, our nation has been restricted by overly burdensome regulations and legislation that prevent Americans from producing homegrown energy. This bill puts power back into the hands of the American people," said a summary of the bill.

Congress is in recess until May 2. IER's measure will be circulated on Capitol Hill when lawmakers return, although a particular strategy has not been worked out yet, said John Mavretich, a spokesman for IER, a proponent of oil and gas industry interests.

Significantly, the measure would establish a requirement for the Department of Interior secretary to lease up to 10% of all federally owned lands for a "broad spectrum" of energy production activity, including both conventional and renewable energy projects.

And it would restore to Congress the authority to set aside any portions of federal lands for preservation under the Antiquities Act of 1906. As the law now stands, the president can create national monuments on federal lands -- which are off limits to oil and gas producers -- without congressional approval. This has been a controversial issue, with Republicans on Capitol Hill accusing the Obama administration of acting in secret to create monuments.

In addition, the IER's bill seeks to "insulate the domestic economy from energy price shocks and other disruptions by maximizing the development of domestic energy resources. This includes expanding certain provisions of the Energy Policy Act of 2005 regarding the development of oil shale, tar sands and other strategic unconventional fuels, opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to resource exploration, removing barriers for the continued development of shale gas through hydraulic fracturing, and allowing the use of Yucca Mountain as a geologic repository for the disposal of radiological materials."

The legislation designates the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission as the "lead agency" for priority energy projects involving multiple federal energy jurisdictions. As lead agency, FERC would assume a coordinating role for facilitating permit applications, setting a master schedule for deadlines for agency action, and taking other actions to avoid undue delays, it said.

A "priority energy project" is defined as any project or facility in the United States or territorial waters that results in the production of a domestic supply of energy or the generation of electricity.

The measure also would extend the "time frame between the granting of the final permit that a priority energy project requires to commence construction and the actual commencement of construction. The extension is warranted because of the massive amounts of financing and capital that must be raised for a typical energy project, and the inability of project developers to begin raising capital until a final permit is issued," IER said.

Likewise, the proposal would provide certainty for permit applicants and avoid delays caused by changing rules and requirements. The regulations and rules regarding a permit application that are in place the day an application is submitted will remain in effect for purposes of reviewing and granting or denying that application, according to IER.

And the legislation would impose firm deadlines on agencies for considering completed permit applications. "This is intended to avoid permit applicants from being held in limbo as to when an agency might act on their permit application," the IER bill said.

However, "it does allow an agency to defer action on a completed permit application so long as the agency identifies the specific steps needed for the permit to be issued and gives the permit applicant up to two years to satisfy those requirements."

The measure would require congressional approval of all energy-related regulations and rules that have an annual effect on the economy of $100 million or more, or those that involve significant new cost increases or impacts on competitiveness or employment. Moreover, federal agencies must prepare statements explaining any adverse impacts of new federal rules on the U.S. energy supply.

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