US Lawmakers Propose Longer Reviews of Oil Exploration Plans

WASHINGTON (Dow Jones)

Lawmakers in the U.S. House of Representatives have proposed to lengthen the amount of time federal offshore drilling regulators have to review oil exploration plans.

In a continuing resolution that would fund government operations through September 2011, House lawmakers propose to lengthen the time the Interior Department has to review exploration plans from 30 days to 90 days.

House lawmakers released their continuing resolution early Wednesday morning.

Also included in the funding resolution is a measure that provides $7 billion for nuclear energy loan guarantees, which is much less than the $36 billion requested by the White House earlier this year.

The proposal to extend the Interior Department's review of oil exploration plans, which President Barack Obama outlined in a request to Congress in May, has already sparked a debate between lawmakers and the administration.

Sens. Mary Landrieu (D, La.) and Lisa Murkowski (R, Alaska) said in a letter Tuesday that an extension is "unnecessary."

Landrieu has been particularly vocal about reduced levels of exploration, drilling and production activity in the Gulf of Mexico in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon spill.

The Interior Department, however, defended its request for additional time to review the plans, especially given its decision to minimize the use "categorical exclusions," which previously allowed it to bypass environmental reviews for certain plans.

"Thirty days was never a sufficient time frame to conduct these reviews and in light of the new safety and environmental protection requirements and policies, the current time limitation is even less appropriate," a spokeswoman said in a statement Wednesday.

If Congress declines to provide additional time for the reviews, the department would need to "significantly increase staff" to meet the current 30-day deadline, the spokeswoman said.

Copyright (c) 2010 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.

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