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House Passes $32 Billion Spending Bill For Interior, EPA

Lawmakers in the House of Representatives on Thursday passed a $32 billion appropriations bill to fund the Department of Interior (DOI), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and other agencies, but the bill contains numerous Republican provisions on energy development and faces an uphill climb to becoming law.

HR 5538, also known as the Department of the Interior, Environment and Related Agencies Appropriations Act of 2017, passed on a 231-196 vote.

Lawmakers attached several amendments to the bill. One amendment by Rep. Charles Boustany Jr. (R-LA), which was agreed to on a 234-195 vote, would prevent DOI from implementing its Well Control Rule (see Daily GPIApril 13, 2015). A voice vote advanced an amendment by Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-CO), which stipulates that DOI cannot enforce its final rule governing hydraulic fracturing (fracking) on public or tribal lands (see Shale DailyMarch 20, 2015).

Three amendments by Rep. Don Young (R-AK) were also agreed to. The amendments prohibit DOI from using funds to remove three Arctic sales from the 2017-2022 Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Proposed Program (see Daily GPI, March 15); implement a final plan to designate areas of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska as wilderness; and finalize, implement, or enforce new regulations on offshore Arctic energy exploration and development.

Another amendment of interest to the oil and gas industry includes one introduced by Rep. Jason Smith (R-MO), which would restrict federal agencies from using funds to pay legal fees under any lawsuit settlement regarding a case that arises under the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, and the Endangered Species Act. That amendment passed on a 226-202 vote.

The bill now moves to the Senate, where it faces an uncertain future. Since the bill targets many of the environmental provisions rolled out by the Obama administration, it is expected that the president would likely veto the bill if it ever got to his desk.

But industry groups voiced support for HR 5538's passage by the House.

"The House passed bill will go a long way to creating American jobs by supporting the industry's ability to explore, develop, transport and deliver the affordable energy that U.S. consumers rely upon," said Louis Finkel, executive vice president for government affairs at the American Petroleum Institute. "This bill supports the continued advancement of the U.S. energy renaissance and provides an alternative vision from the attempts by the administration to force the U.S. to take a step backwards on energy policy."

Randall Luthi, president of the National Ocean Industries Association (NOIA), said the bill targeted "this year's onslaught of job-killing federal regulations" and would keep federal waters, including offshore Alaska, open to continued exploration and development.

"Altogether, this bill recognizes that the offshore oil and natural gas industry is inextricably linked to the wellbeing of our country," Luthi said. "The bill includes strong and smart policies that will keep offshore oil and natural gas operations safe and sustainable. NOIA looks forward to working with Congress to preserve these important provisions as this bill or other year-end appropriations legislation moves forward."

Independent Petroleum Association of America (IPAA) CEO Barry Russell agreed.

"This appropriations bill undoes some of the excessive regulations hurled at the industry by the Obama administration during its final year in office," Russell said. "The legislation contains several of IPAA's key priorities, including prohibiting the DOI from implementing its 'Washington knows best' approach to regulate fracking and its 'one size fits all' mandate on offshore drilling, prohibiting enforcement of the DOI's proposal to address methane emissions, and providing reasonable implementation of the 2015 National Ambient Air Quality Standards for ozone."

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