US Senator Will Halt Obama Nominee Over Deep-Water Drilling Permits

WASHINGTON (Dow Jones Newswires), Feb. 16, 2011

A U.S. Senator said Tuesday he would block President Barack Obama's nominee to head the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service until the administration issues at least 15 permits for deep-water drilling exploration.

"Louisianans are desperate to get back to work," Sen. David Vitter, (R., La.) said in a press release. "I love fish and wildlife, but my top economic priority is to stop the economic devastation caused to humans by the moratorium."

The administration has lifted a moratorium on deep-water drilling permits but has not issued one since the Deepwater Horizon incident last April, igniting criticism that a de-facto moratorium is hurting local economies that rely on the drilling industry.

The hold on Obama's choice for the post, Daniel M. Ashe, will prevent the nomination from moving forward for confirmation by the U.S. Senate. The Fish and Wildlife Service is part of the Interior Department, which handles permits for oil drilling.

"Permits to drill are issued solely based on whether a company's application meets rigorous safety and environmental standards," said Interior Department spokeswoman Kendra Barkoff. She said the agency continues to issue permits and "is working as expeditiously as is safely possible" to review others.

Shallow-water drilling permits have also been issued at a slower pace than usual since April, despite the fact that the administration has met with the industry to hear concerns, said Frank Maisano, senior principal at Bracewell & Giuliani, a firm that represents shallow water drillers. "The action hasn't matched the words," Maisano said.

Lawmakers from states in the Gulf of Mexico region in particular have been scrambling to force the administration to act. Vitter and Sen. Mary Landrieu (D., La.) have both blocked nominations in an effort to draw attention to the permitting issue.

Last month the head of the Interior Department's Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation, and Enforcement, Michael Bromwich, said he would be stunned if his agency waited until July to issue a deepwater permit.

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