Bill filed to boost US refinery construction

Nick Snow
Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON, DC, May 3 -- Rep. Charles F. Bass (R-NH), who mobilized moderate House Republicans last fall to stop Arctic National Wildlife Refuge leasing authorization, has introduced a bill to facilitate construction of petroleum and biofuel refineries.

"We should assist local, state, and federal officials in confronting the confusing and sometimes contradictory regulations, approval timelines, and permits required by dozens of regulatory agencies," Bass said.

"Managing the process collaboratively would also result in greater public transparency and adherence to the critical environmental reviews and assessments that are required," added Bass, a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

The committee's chairman, Rep. Joe Barton (R-Tex.), applauded the measure. "There is no consistent national permitting program for refineries, compared with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission's (FERC) lead agency role over interstate natural gas pipelines, liquefied natural gas, and hydroelectric power and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's role over nuclear plants," he said.

Barton noted that refiners already are subject to significant environmental regulation and will face several new Clean Air Act provisions that will improve the environment but also require capital commitments and additional government permits.

Preserves safeguards
Bass's bill preserves federal environmental safeguards and private citizens' rights to file appeals during the permitting process. It also will not allow any agency or refiner to skirt environmental regulations.

Under HR 5254, when a refinery construction application was filed, a federal coordinator would be appointed to develop a memorandum of agreement with local, state, and federal agencies involved in issuing permits for the project.

Financial and technical assistance also would be provided to states so they could gather the necessary data, according to Bass.

The bill also would establish a list of sites designated by the president on closed military bases that could be suitable for new refineries. At least one such site would have to be designated for a biofuels refinery, Bass said.

Bass and other House Republicans stopped a federal budget bill in early November until a provision authorizing oil and gas leasing along ANWR's coastal plain was removed. The Senate, which had defeated ANWR leasing bills that had cleared the House in the past, narrowly approved the language as part of the budget bill earlier in 2005.

Contact Nick Snow at nsnow@cox.net.

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