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Providing for Consideration of H.R. 5254, Refinery Permit Process Schedule Act

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Date:
Location: Washington, DC


PROVIDING FOR CONSIDERATION OF H.R. 5254, REFINERY PERMIT PROCESS SCHEDULE ACT

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Mr. HALL. Mr. Speaker, I rise in support of the rule, of course, providing for consideration of H.R. 5254, the Refinery Permit Process Schedule Act.

First, let me explain the bill. It will create a new system for coordinating the myriad permits and authorizations required under Federal law in order to get refineries built and operating.

Mr. Speaker, a Federal coordinator will call a meeting of all officials involved in issuing permits under Federal law. For those permits that require State officials to implement Federal law, the governor of the State where the refinery would be located selects the participants. Under the leadership of the coordinator, the officials will hammer out a coordinated schedule for acting up or down on permit applications. The schedule will be published in Federal Register. Once the regulatory work begins, if an agency slips behind schedule, the applicant may go to court to get the schedule restored.

The bill also calls on the President to suggest that we use closed military bases as possible candidates for siting refineries, subject to local approval.

H.R. 5254 explicitly preserves the letter and intent of all laws for environmental protection and public participation, and, for the first time, it gives priority to EPA in scheduling permit processing. But it also instills discipline and interagency teamwork into the system so that needless bureaucratic delay can be eliminated.

Why do we need this bill? Witness after witness at our Energy and Commerce Committee hearings have testified to the shortage of refinery capacity in the United States. It is shocking to most Americans that we are importing more gasoline every day and that our domestic capacity to make gasoline is at its upper limits. This causes upward pressure on prices, which we all experience at each fill-up.

One reason that refinery capacity is so tight is the regulatory costs and uncertainty of permitting. We want to take that excuse off the table. But what we really want to do is open the U.S. market to new entrants who will refine traditional fuels and alternatives such as coal-to-liquid and biofuels, both of which are set out in H.R. 5254.

The process for H.R. 5254 started last year on September 7, 2005, just days after Katrina struck the gulf coast. We held hearings that led to H.R. 3893, the Gasoline For America's Security Act. Sections 101, 102 and 103 of H.R. 3893 on refinery streamlining formed the foundation of H.R. 5254.

After a vigorous floor debate, H.R. 3893 passed the House, but it has not been taken up by the Senate. So on May 2 of this year, our colleague from New Hampshire, Mr. Bass, introduced this new version of refinery streamlining that provides for State input and, more explicitly, preserves underlying Federal environmental laws.

A bipartisan majority of the House voted for H.R. 5254 when it was brought up under suspension of the rules. During that debate, some Members suggested that the bill does not defer adequately to the role of States in permitting decisions. After the debate was over and the bill had garnered 237 votes, but shy of the two-thirds needed under suspension, we reached out to our friends on the other side of the aisle to explore common language. In fact, we offered an amendment designed to address the State role issue, even more than we had already in the underlying bill.

The chairman of the full committee asked that this bill be pulled from the schedule several weeks ago so that bipartisan discussions could be given a chance. Our colleagues in the minority really had three options. Their first option was to accept the new language as fully answering their concern, which I believe it did; option two was to suggest modifications or alternatives to achieve the same purpose; option three was to take their ball and go home. The alternative to ``take their ball and go home'' meant to decide that negotiations would not produce an agreement.

They chose option three, which surprised us. We thought a deal was possible, and we made suggestions to address their concerns.

We are here today with the same bill that received 237 votes last month because the bill already deferred to governors on the designation of State officials to participate in the development of the coordinated plan, and because 237 of us confirmed our support for H.R. 5254 earlier this month, without any further changes, I think that no amendments to the bill are necessary.

I urge a ``yes'' vote on the rule.

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Mr. HALL. Mr. Speaker, first I would like to point out again, as Mr. Bass did, that nothing in this bill forces communities designated by the President to submit to Secretary Rumsfeld a reuse plan that includes a refinery, even if they do not want to build one.

The opposite is true. Actually, this is going to go to districts that want them, and we have districts who do want them. I hold in my hand a letter from the Texarkana Chamber of Commerce, Texarkana, Texas, signed by the president of that chamber, the county judge, the Bowie County judge, the mayor, both mayors on the Arkansas side and Texas side.

Mr. Speaker, it is going to go to places who really want them, and the bill requires that the Secretary of Defense give substantial deference to the local redevelopment authority's recommendation, even if that recommendation rejects the refinery.

And the President has no power to direct. He has power only to suggest. And you can see that by looking at section 5, line 16. That simply says: ``The President shall designate no less than three closed military installations, or portions thereof, as potentially suitable for the construction of a refinery.''

So these places are going to be sought after. Maine has nothing to fear. If they do not want it, they can cancel it by simply saying they do not want it. We would be very happy to have it over in Texarkana, Texas and serve four States there that come together.

I urge, of course, the support of this bill.

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