House Natural Resources Panel to Examine Aftermath of 2005 Energy Bill

Two years ago, the GOP-controlled Congress passed an energy bill that reshaped the rules for oil and gas exploration on federal lands. Now, the Democratic House wants to take a second look.

A House Natural Resources subcommittee examines the oil and gas provisions of the 2005 Energy Policy Act at a hearing tomorrow afternoon. Some Democrats, including full committee Chairman Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.), are concerned the Bush administration is focusing too much on energy exploration at the expense of conservation, recreation and wildlife.

The Energy and Water Subcommittee is slated to examine Title III of the bill, with particular attention to oil shale research and development, the designation of Western energy transmission corridors, and the 30-day requirement for processing drilling permit applications, according to a House Democratic aide.

While tomorrow's oversight hearing is not targeted toward a specific legislative fix, the Western Governors' Association recently called on Congress to repeal part of the bill that allows agencies to issue categorical exclusions for National Environmental Policy Act studies of oil and gas drilling permits in sensitive wildlife habitats.

Industry groups and the Bush administration like categorical exclusions because they technically fulfill NEPA statutory requirements for environmental analysis but can dramatically cut the approval time for projects or permit requests.

Eliminating the categorical exclusions would require the Interior and Agriculture departments to conduct a full site-specific environmental analysis or environmental impact statement, which is "necessary to protect crucial wildlife habitat and significant migration corridors located in the field of development," the WGA resolution states.

Schedule: The hearing is scheduled for 2 p.m. April 17th in 1334 Longworth.

Witnesses: Abraham Haspel, assistant deputy secretary, Interior Department; Ann Morgan, vice president for public lands, The Wilderness Society; Utah State Sen. Curtis Bramble (R); Jim Bartis, senior policy researcher, RAND Corp.; former Colorado State Sen. Kathleen Kelley; Oscar Simpson, public lands community organizer, National Wildlife Federation; and Paul Cicio, president, Industrial Energy Consumers of America.

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