WASHINGTON (Dow Jones Newswires), June 23, 2011
The House of Representatives voted Wednesday to streamline the issuance of clean-air permits for offshore oil-drilling projects, representing another attempt by Republicans to pressure the Obama administration into speeding up domestic oil production.
The bill passed Wednesday night by a vote of 253-166, with votes falling largely along party lines. A majority of Democrats voted against the measure, saying it would strip regulators of their ability to determine whether drilling projects pollute the air and pose a risk to human health.
The bill is unlikely to pass the Senate, where Democrats hold control.
Introduced by Rep. Cory Gardner (R., Colo.), the bill seeks to resolve challenges faced by Royal Dutch Shell (RDSA, RDSA.LN) as it sought, and continues to seek, clean-air permits for drilling projects off the coast of Alaska.
Specifically, the bill requires the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to either approve or deny clean-air permits within six months of receiving an application. It also requires opponents of the permits to file objections in a federal court, as opposed to a less-formal appeals board that is currently available to them.
Before passing the bill, the Republican-led House voted down 10 amendments offered by Democrats, many of whom were looking to overturn various segments of the underlying bill.
On Tuesday, the Obama administration came out against the bill and said it "could result in increased air pollution from [outer continental shelf] sources" and would "deprive citizens of an important avenue for challenging government action."
Wednesday's votes marks at least the fourth time this year that House Republicans have passed legislation aimed at expediting or expanding domestic oil production. With oil prices above $90 a barrel, Republicans have accused the Obama administration of discouraging oil production and have presented themselves as the party that would boost domestic drilling to bring down prices at the pump.
In May, the House passed a bill that forced the Interior Department to make decisions on offshore drilling permits within 30 days of receiving an application.
The bill that was passed Wednesday was developed in response to challenges faced by Shell in obtaining clean-air permits for exploratory drilling in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas. The company invested over $3 billion to prepare for the drilling, but regulatory hurdles and other challenges has prevented the company from moving forward.
In May, EPA assistant administrator for air and radiation Gina McCarthy said her agency was "very close" to granting three permits to Shell. Earlier, Shell executives had met with senior EPA officials and President Obama's top energy aides about the matter.
Wednesday's vote won the praise of the pro-business group Chamber of Commerce. By imposing deadlines on the EPA, the bill provides "companies a predictable approval timeline, rather than a costly stream of seemingly arbitrary delays," the chamber's executive vice president for government affairs, Bruce Josten, said in a letter to House lawmakers.
Copyright (c) 2011 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.
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