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House Panel Approves OCS Permitting Changes

A House subcommittee Tuesday voted to favorably report to the House Energy and Commerce Committee draft legislation that proponents say would ease the permitting process for energy production on the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS).

The Subcommittee on Energy and Power also voted to favorably report on a bill (HR 1705) that would require an analysis of the cumulative economic impact of actions proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The discussion draft of the Jobs and Energy Permitting Act, which has yet to be given a bill number, would help end confusion and uncertainty surrounding the EPA's decision-making process for air permits for exploration projects in the Alaskan OCS, according to its chief sponsor, Rep. Cory Gardner (R-CO). Permits, which are currently ruled on through an often-lengthy process involving both EPA and the Environmental Appeals Board, would instead have to be ruled on by the EPA within six months of requests, Gardner said.

Changes to the Clean Air Act (CAA) detailed in the legislation "will end the never-ending circuit of permits, reviews and appeals created by EPA's current system for offshore drilling permit approval," said Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI). "Production off the coast of Alaska could make enormous strides to increase supply and bring down prices, decrease our foreign oil imports, refill the declining Trans-Alaska Pipeline and create tens of thousands of jobs. Yet EPA insists on holding up development of this resource that holds such great potential for our economy and national security."

But Democrats said the proposal would damage air quality in coastal states. The bill "will produce more pollution, more litigation and less public participation," according to Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA).

HR 1705 -- the Transparency in Regulatory Analysis of Impacts on the Nation Act (TRAIN) -- would form a commission of Cabinet-level officials to study the cumulative economic impact of 14 pending EPA regulations and actions effecting the energy and manufacturing industries. EPA actions that would be covered by the proposed study, including those on ozone and regional haze, could potentially cost the United States billions of dollars and thousands of jobs, according to chief sponsor Rep. John Sullivan (R-OK).

"This analysis would help Congress and federal agencies develop a better understanding of how these regulatory policies are effecting America's economy as a whole," Sullivan said. "What will all this regulation cost? EPA doesn't know, and it has failed to conduct a study of overall cumulative cost of many of their regulations, which is why this legislation is so important."

Both pieces of legislation now go to the full Energy and Commerce Committee for consideration.

In March the Subcommittee on Energy and Power voted out legislation (HR 910) that would bar the EPA from regulating carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions under the CAA (see Daily GPI, March 11). That resolution was subsequently passed over to the Senate, where it was referred to the Committee on Environment and Public Works.

Similar measures seeking to tie the EPA's hands have been introduced in the Senate. A bill unveiled by Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) would strip away the EPA's authority to limit carbon emissions from power plants, refineries and other stationary sources. Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY) has proposed to block the Obama administration's regulation of GHG emissions from stationary sources without specific authorization from Congress (see Daily GPI, Feb. 1).

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