The House Friday passed by a 296-121 vote a major omnibus spending bill to avert a shutdown of the federal government. Senate approval of the measure was to follow but had not come by press time Friday. The package, which combined nine different appropriations bills to fund agencies through fiscal 2012, contained several provisions that are favorable to the oil and natural gas industry, including one that would give the Interior Department authority over air quality compliance in the Arctic offshore.
“All indications are that it [the spending bill] will be approved” by the House and Senate, a spokesman for Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, the ranking Republican on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, told NGI Friday. House and Senate leaders have signed off on the conference report, so no changes can be made on the floor. “It can only be brought up for an up or down vote.”
The spending package includes a proposal by Murkowski to transfer authority over offshore air emissions in the Arctic to the Interior Department from the Environmental Protect Agency (EPA).
“Transferring air quality authority from the EPA to Interior will place Alaska’s Arctic leases on a level playing field with the Gulf of Mexico and will provide a level of predictability, without compromising environmental protections,” she said. The EPA currently has jurisdiction to issue air permits on Alaska’s Outer Continental Shelf, while Interior oversees air quality compliance in the Gulf of Mexico.
The proposal, authored by Murkowski, provides regulatory parity for the Beaufort and Chukchi seas with the western and central Gulf of Mexico, according to Murkowski.
Murkowski said she decided to seek transfer of authority for air quality to Interior after watching Shell, which has already invested nearly $4 billion in preparing to explore the Arctic shelf off the coast of Alaska, wait more than five years in a still unsuccessful bid to obtain valid operating permits from the EPA. By contrast, she said Interior has, on average, processed air quality permits within months.
The spending package does not include President Obama’s proposal to increase oil and natural gas fees by $38 million for onshore permitting. This is a major victory for producers that operate on land owned and overseen by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).
The spending bill calls for $1.1 billion in funding for the BLM in FY 2012, which is $5 million less than last year’s level. It also includes full funding for the Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) of $60 million to help expedite the review of offshore oil and gas exploration plans.
And it fully funds BOEM’s sister agency, the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, at $76 million in FY 2012. The measure gives the agency the authority to collect $62 million in offshore inspection fees to help with the approval of permits, expedite exploration plan approvals, and hire inspectors and engineers.
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