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Jobs and Energy Permitting Act of 2011

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. WHITFIELD. I yield myself 5 minutes.

I would like to say that the American people expect the Congress to provide opportunities for us to fully explore our natural resources. This is a very modest bill that only changes one very small part of the Clean Air Act. It relates explicitly only to exploratory drilling permits, and it changes only appeals to the Environmental Appeals Board. The Environmental Appeals Board is not even in the statute of the Clean Air Act; it was put in by regulation.

And what's happening here in the one issue that we're talking about today, the EPA has approved this drilling permit on three separate occasions, yet it's been appealed to the Environmental Appeals Board, and it's tied up and tied up and they will not make a final decision. And if you cannot exhaust your administrative remedies, you cannot even go to the court system. So this legislation simply expedites the process without removing protections for people concerned about the environment, as we all are. And I wanted to make that comment.


Mr. WHITFIELD. I yield myself 3 minutes.

The gentleman, in his statement, noted that we consume 25 percent of the world's oil, but we possess only 2 percent of the world's reserves. And that's precisely why we're trying to pass this bill, because oil resources can only be counted as proven reserves if they've been fully explored, and we have not had the opportunity to fully explore.

And so why should we continue to be dependent on foreign oil when we have not been able to even explore because we have a bureaucratic agency at EPA, the purpose of which is to deny the opportunity to fully explore?

This is modest legislation. It simply clarifies that if you have a ship, that ship is going to be treated as a mobile source. If you have a drilling platform, that's going to be treated as a stationary source.

If you're drilling, we're going to look at the ambient air quality impact onshore, not offshore. And then we're just going to ask the EPA to eliminate the Environmental Appeals Board for exploratory permits only, nothing else, and to make a decision within 6 months after the completed application is there.

I think that this graph adequately demonstrates what our problem is here in America. This is the Trans-Alaska Pipeline. In 1985 we were moving 2.1 million barrels a day through that pipeline. Today, we're down below 600,000 barrels a day. So if we have the reserves, the American people are simply asking us to restore some balance in these Federal agencies. We want to protect the environment, but we also want an opportunity to explore and use our own oil resources, and we have reason to believe that they are abundant.

I want to thank Mr. Gardner for his leadership on this issue. And I would urge everyone in this body, just like we had five Democrats in committee who voted for this bill, I think it's imperative for the American people that we do so, and I would urge that we adopt H.R. 2021.


Mr. WHITFIELD. Madam Chair, I would like to quote from Lisa Jackson, who was talking explicitly about the permitting issue here. She said: I believe that the analysis clearly shows that there is no public health concern here. And that's why EPA, on three separate occasions, approved this air quality permit, but on the appeal process it was denied by the Environmental Appeals Board.

Now, if you look at the legislative history of the Clean Air Act, it is very clear in that legislative history that, as it pertains to Outer Continental Shelf sources, they were concerned about the impact onshore and the ability of onshore to attain and maintain their Clean Air National Ambient Air Quality standard requirements.

And so all this legislation does is to clarify that point. We're not changing the ambient air quality standards. We're not changing the way they monitor stationary sources. We're not changing the way they monitor mobile sources. We're simply clarifying that that was the legislative history, that was the intent, and the full range of environmental protections are still in place.

So I believe that this amendment is not necessary. We already have adequate monitoring in place.


Mr. WHITFIELD. Mr. Chairman, I've had the opportunity to serve many years with the gentleman from Illinois, who's the ranking member of this subcommittee, and have a great deal of respect and admiration for him. But I would point out to him that this legislation does not in any way curtail, stop, impose the opportunity for anyone to express opposition or comment about a permit. We do not in any way change the comment period that EPA has to determine if they're going to issue, in this case, an exploratory permit.

We do not in any way change the National Environmental Policy Act that provides four additional opportunities for communities, local, State, individuals, environmental groups to comment on an exploration permit. There are today five opportunities for people to comment about air permits. After this bill is passed, there will still be five opportunities for entities to comment.

Today, individuals and entities can file a lawsuit against the EPA and their actions. After this bill is passed, they can still file a lawsuit.

This amendment basically gives the EPA Administrator the opportunity to grant 30-day extensions on final agency action as the Administrator deems it necessary; but it's not limited to one 30-day period, two 30-day periods or three 30-day periods. In fact, it could go on ad infinitum, and that's the whole reason we have the bill here today, because I don't care what company it is out there trying to explore to determine if the oil is there, if you cannot even get an administrative decision, as in the case in point it has taken 4 or 5 years and there's still no decision, you can never get to the court system.

So this bill is a commonsense bill that provides some balance, some checkpoints at EPA so that we have the maximum opportunity to explore, to determine how much oil we have off the coast of Alaska. And I might say, in the hearings Alaska government authorities came up and pleaded for us to do something to help get a decision from EPA.

So I would oppose this amendment.

I reserve the balance of my time.


Mr. WHITFIELD. I yield myself 2 minutes.

To close this debate, I would simply say that we think 6 months is totally adequate to make some decisions about air quality permits for exploratory purposes only, and I would remind everyone here that EPA had a 60-day comment period for its utility MACT regulation that was a 1,000-page regulation imposed by EPA's own estimate of $10 billion on the American people and increased electricity costs, if it goes into effect, by 4 or 5 percent, and they did that in 60 days.

Certainly, the 6 months that we give in this bill for an air quality permit for drilling purposes alone is adequate, and I would respectfully request that we oppose this amendment.

I yield back the balance of my time.


Mr. WHITFIELD. Mr. Chairman, our friend from California's amendment sort of makes a lot of sense. There are a couple of issues that I would like to point out about it.

First of all, under her proposal, you would appeal the decision of the EPA at the local district court, wherever the project might be, let's say California. So you go through that appeals process through the U.S. District Court, and then if you don't like that decision, then you have to go to the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Well, today, if our bill did not pass, anyone could appeal a decision of the Environmental Protection Agency to the Environmental Appeals Board, which is located in Washington, D.C. So, today, any appeals to that board have to come to Washington, D.C., and it really is a judicial hearing. There are lawyers. There are judges. There is evidence. And so, today, that's the case.

Our bill simply says that in order to curtail the length of time it takes to receive or to even get a decision for an exploratory permit only, nothing else--we're not changing any other aspect of the EPA or Clean Air Act. We're simply saying, for this one purpose, we want a decision within 6 months, yes or no, so that the administrative decisions are exhausted. And then once the decision is made by the EPA, any party can go to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. They don't even have to go through that extra layer at the Federal court but go right to the district court of appeals here in Washington, D.C.

So this legislation does not in any way change the venue. As I said, if we did nothing, as it is today, if they appeal to the Environmental Appeals Board, they come to Washington, D.C., to have the hearing. So I have been sympathetic to her desire to save people money, not require them to come all the way to Washington, but that's the way the law is today.

I yield back the balance of my time.


Mr. WHITFIELD. I would like to make one additional comment. I think you have a very good point on the balkanization. We have these Federal waters, the Outer Continental Shelf. We have a lot of oil reserves, and we're trying to explore, trying to produce more oil. And if this amendment is adopted, different States can have different rules, so that would complicate things.

And we already have a situation where we have different agencies of the Federal Government issuing these permits. In some areas we have the Department of the Interior. In other areas we have EPA. If you take that, on top of the balkanization, it's going to take a lot longer than 5 years. We may never get a permit.

I thank the gentleman for yielding.


Mr. WHITFIELD. We certainly want to thank the gentlelady from New York for introducing this amendment.

To answer the question about how is this bill going to help oil prices and provide more oil for the marketplace, obviously it can't do it overnight. But the reason that we're here is because it has taken EPA 5 years and they still have not even rendered a decision on a simple exploratory drill permit request, which is not even a long-term activity. It's simply to explore to determine is oil there and can we use it.

Now, in America we're using around 20 million barrels of oil a day, and the vast majority of that is being imported into the U.S. from other sources. And so all we're attempting to do in this bill--we're not changing any aspect of the Clean Air Act, we're not changing mobile source rules, stationary source rules, national ambient air quality standards. We're not changing that. We're not changing the Environmental Appeals Board from hearing appeals on any other permit other than an exploratory permit, and that's all this bill does.

And we want to do it because we're trying to find additional oil in America, and we know we have it. And we also know that if we have more oil, obviously we can't get it produced tomorrow. We've been trying 5 years just to get the permit, and we don't have that yet. But we want any company to have the ability to go out and drill and to get an expedited answer from EPA. We're not even directing EPA to approve the permit. We're simply saying make a decision. And then if the other side does not like the decision, they have an opportunity to go to court. Under the way it's operating today, we can't get a final decision to even go to court. So here we are in limbo.

I might also say that on the gentlelady's amendment, she does not give any time for this report to be issued. And knowing EPA's track record, we could be here 10 years waiting for a report.

But more important than that, EPA really does not perform economic analyses of energy markets. The Energy Information Administration does that. They have the modeling to do it, they have the technicians to do it, they have the information to do it. EPA really does not even do a very good job on their regulations of thinking about the impact on jobs in America.

So I understand the gentlelady's intent; I think it's a very good intent. But as I said, one of the real weaknesses here is she doesn't even set a timeline for this.


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