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Murkowski Seeks to Strip EPA Appeals Board of Veto Power Over Permits

If the Environmental Appeals Board's authority to invalidate Environmental Protection Agency-approved permits is not checked, Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) said she would seek to transfer permitting authority back to the Interior Department.

Sen. Murkowski (R-AK) Thursday introduced legislation aimed at preventing offshore Alaska oil and gas projects from being held up or killed in the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) internal appeals process.

Specifically, for offshore Alaska projects that have received EPA permits, the bill would prevent the EPA's Environmental Appeals Board from being used to invalidate the permits for offshore exploration. Instead, permit appeals would have to be heard in federal court. It also would require the EPA to grant or deny a permit within six months of the filing of a completed application.

Upholding the challenges of Alaska Native and conservation groups, the EPA appeals board earlier this year blocked clean air permits for Shell Oil to drill and operate in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas (see Daily GPI, Jan. 5).

"We need to end the practice of outside groups using the appeals board to veto offshore energy development in Alaska and elsewhere. The EPA plays an important role in protecting the environment. It must be allowed to fulfill that role without having its decisions second guessed through a flawed appeals process," Murkowski said.

While the Interior Department is responsible for permitting in the Gulf of Mexico, the EPA handles permitting on Alaska's Outer Continental Shelf. Under the existing system, companies that have paid billions of dollars for offshore oil and gas leases are subject to an "endless regulatory loop" where the EPA has been unable to issue a permit capable of withstanding its own appeals process, according to Murkowski. The appeals board is composed of environmental attorneys acting as judges, although they are neither confirmed nor authorized by Congress.

The legislation is sponsored by 11 Republicans and two Democrats: Sens. Mark Begich of Alaska and Mary Landrieu of Louisiana.

In April Murkowski told a House subcommittee that if the EPA's handling of the permitting process continues to break down at the appeals board level, she would have no recourse but to seek to transfer authority back to Interior. "If the EPA cannot demonstrate some competency, especially as congressional urging and intent becomes more clear, then EPA should not expect to keep its authority for long," she said.

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