U.S. Sen. David Vitter today sent a letter to Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement Director Michael Bromwich expressing concern about Bromwich's recent remarks indicating that his agency would be expanding the scope of its regulatory jurisdiction to include drilling contractors, in spite of his previous complaints that BOEMRE is understaffed.
"BOEMRE is perpetually failing at showing itself capable of handling its basic responsibility to issue permits. The rate of permitting is abysmal and should be Director Bromwich and Secretary Salazar's primary focus," said Vitter. "Instead, they're diverting resources to expand their authority while adding more confusion to the process. That's not a recipe for lowering prices at the pump or getting Louisianians working again."
Recent news reports cited comments by Bromwich that said BOEMRE, rather than focusing on issuing permits to oil and gas producers, would expand its regulatory reach to cover services firms, drilling rig suppliers and other contractors. Vitter last year criticized Bromwich for authorizing his staff to attend a workshop to discuss offshore permitting in Papua New Guinea, even though Bromwich has previously complained that BOEMRE does not have enough staff and resources to do its job of issuing permits in the United States.
Vitter also met with Bromwich in February to discuss the drilling permit impasse in the Gulf of Mexico. A photo of that meeting is attached.
The full text of Vitter's letter to Bromwich is below.
May 3, 2011
Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement
1849 C St., NW
Washington, DC 20240
Dear Mr. Bromwich:
I have strong concerns with your remarks made yesterday in Houston regarding expanded jurisdiction at the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEMRE). It appears this expansion of regulatory authority will serve as another hurdle to expanding our domestic production by inserting even more confusion to the permitting process. I would appreciate a detailed response on several items relating to your expansion of jurisdiction and responsibility in light of the fact that you have said publicly, on multiple occasions, that BOEMRE does not have adequate staff to handle permitting as an excuse for your agency's abysmal pace of approving permits. Expanding the reach of your agency while simultaneously claiming you are "understaffed" is nothing short of confusing.
Particularly, I request the following:
1. A copy of the memorandum of legal authority that has been written. The BOEMRE regulations currently apply to the operators because the regulations are incorporated into the lease contracts -- in other words, the regulation has a contractual basis. I am aware of no such privity of contract that exists between DOI and the support contractors.
2. How can BOEMRE apply existing regulations to contractors when the proposed regulations specifically only applied to lessees? Are there not legal problems with this expansion of jurisdiction beyond the current contractual authority?
3. Your analysis of how the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act authorizes BOEMRE to manage contractors. I am very skeptical of a broad scale regulation of contractors by BOEMRE, especially with no new regulatory proceedings that give them the opportunity for notice and comment under the Administrative Procedures Act.
4. Finally, please identify what staff you intend to direct away from their current responsibilities at Interior and explain why they could not better be utilized in the permitting process to get our energy industry and thousands of Americans back to work.
Again, you have on multiple occasions claimed to be understaffed, yet now -- despite these claims -- you appear to have adequate staff to expand BOEMRE's jurisdiction and responsibility. This announcement leaves Congress with no other reason but to believe that BOEMRE has always had the necessary means, staff, and flexibility to meet the rising challenges and demands on the agency. Many of my colleagues in Congress would argue that includes the rising challenge of increased energy prices, a direct result of the lack of offshore drilling permits that could increase domestic supply.
I look forward to a detailed plan of how you intend to maneuver staff with this newly acknowledged flexibility to meet that very real need for increased permit approval.