DOI appropriations bill in House omits some administration plans

Appropriations legislation that was introduced in the US House on Dec. 14 would set budgets for the US Department of the Interior and eight other federal departments for the rest of fiscal 2012, which began on Oct. 1. But the measure also would drop the Obama administration’s proposal to increase oil and gas fees at the US Bureau of Land Management by $38 million.

BLM would receive $1 million, $5 million less than the previous year. The new US Bureau of Ocean Energy Management would receive $60 million to review offshore exploration plans and issue drilling permits. The US Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement would get $76 million, including $15 million for oil spill research. It also would be authorized to collect $62 million in inspection fees, with dedicated funding for approving permits and hiring inspectors and engineers.

The measure also contains provisions directing DOI to expedite permit approvals for new offshore energy production, and prohibiting implementation or enforcement of Interior Sec. Ken Salazar’s order for BLM to review its holdings and designate “wild lands” for possible future designation as wilderness.

US Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alas.), the Energy and Natural Resources Committee’s ranking minority member, separately said DOI’s appropriations bill before the House contains language that would move authority over offshore Arctic air emissions from the US Environmental Protection Agency to DOI. Doing so would make the situation there comparable to the Gulf of Mexico without compromising environmental protections, she maintained.

She said she decided to propose transferring the authority after watching Shell Offshore Co. wait more than 5 years to receive valid operating permits from EPA after investing nearly $4 billion to prepare to explore its leases in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas. DOI, by contrast, processes such permits in a matter of months, Murkowski said. She believes that all areas of the US Outer Continental Shelf should be regulated equally, she added.

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