Senators Dan Coats (R-Ind.) and David Vitter (R-La.) today introduced legislation to jumpstart American energy production by removing energy development agencies and functions from the U.S. Department of the Interior and moving them to a revamped U.S. Department of Energy. The Coats-Vitter bill comes on the heels of a new report released Wednesday by the non-partisan Congressional Research Service showing that the Obama administration's five-year plan for energy production and leasing on the outer continental shelf is the worst in recent history.
Currently the Interior Department manages oil and gas development offshore and on federal lands while also overseeing land conservation efforts. However, this department has focused on pursuing its conservation mission at the expense of facilitating responsible energy production that would help America become more energy independent.
Areas of domestic energy production have decreased under this administration. Oil exploration on federal lands plummeted by 14 percent from 2010 to 2011. From 2009 to 2011, the total number of acres of leased onshore public lands decreased by nearly seven million acres.
"At a time when wages are falling and Hoosier families and small businesses are struggling to make ends meet, the Obama administration releases a five-year energy plan that will lock up production of offshore energy resources and jeopardize our energy security," said Coats, a member of the Senate Energy Committee. "Currently, our country has no federal department focused primarily on producing American energy and meeting our nation's future energy needs. The Energy Department was created to reduce our dependence on foreign oil, yet the agency has no authority to permit or provide access to our vast domestic energy resources. This legislation restructures the existing agency to make increasing production and decreasing energy costs a national priority for the first time."
"Like seemingly everything else in Washington, our nation's energy policy functions are fragmented through different agencies, causing slow-downs and bureaucratic confusion. Our bill puts some common sense back in the domestic energy permitting and planning process," Vitter said. "In particular, we want to fix the unnecessary bureaucracy and economically crippling actions taken by the Department of Interior -- especially since they failed with the Gulf of Mexico drilling moratorium, produced a wholly inadequate five-year offshore lease plan and still don't want to issue permits."
The Coats-Vitter legislation would:
* Remove energy development agencies and functions from the Department of the Interior and transfer them to the new Office of Federal Energy Production in the Department of Energy.
* Transfer the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, and all of the oil, gas and renewable energy production, currently held by the Bureau of Land Management to the Office of Federal Energy Production under DOE.
* Give the Energy Secretary the authority to modify or reject the Interior Department's five-year land management plan with regard to the Outer Continental Shelf.
* Allow the Energy Secretary to amend a five-year plan if the Energy Information Administration determines that the United States will require more than 1,000,000 barrels of oil per day for the next fiscal year from foreign sources other than Canada and Mexico.
* Exempt the Energy Department from the Equal Access to Justice Act, which allows environmental groups to recoup their attorneys' fees from taxpayer funds when suing the federal government.