US House Republicans push ahead on controversial energy policy proposals

Legislation being drafted by us House Republican leaders would include several highly controversial proposals sought by the oil industry but vehemently opposed by environmental groups. They include opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge coastal plain to exploration, reducing state authority over coastal zone management, and expanding deepwater royalty relief.


Maureen Lorenzetti
OGJ Online

WASHINGTON, DC, June 12 -- US House Republican leaders are drafting legislation that includes several highly controversial proposals sought by the oil industry but vehemently opposed by environmental groups.

They include opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge coastal plain to exploration, reducing state authority over coastal zone management, and expanding deepwater royalty relief.

Two comprehensive energy bills have been filed in the Senate, one by Committee on Energy and Natural Resources chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) and one by former chairman Frank Murkowski (R-Alas.). But the new Democratic majority in the Senate has signaled it may opt to pass short-term, narrow legislation instead of tackling omnibus bills that may not have widespread bipartisan support.

Murkowski's bill, for example, includes opening ANWR, probably a political nonstarter with this Congress. Bingaman's proposal seeks to tighten fuel efficiency standards for cars, also controversial.

In the House of Representatives, the Republican majority signaled this spring it would let committees work on narrowly defined bills that address specific portions of the administration's National Energy Policy blueprint unveiled last month. Markups could begin in late June although no dates have been set.

Unlike the Senate, House Republican leaders appear to want to move forward with controversial pieces of the White House plan, although congressional sources believe the prospect that any of the proposals would survive into legislation are slim.

The House Committee on Appropriations, for example, has signaled it will keep ANWR-related funds out of the 2002 budget. And even Lease Sale 181 in the eastern Gulf of Mexico next December, which is supported by the Clinton administration, may not survive because of political pressure from coastal interests.

Draft legislation under consideration would require the Minerals Management Service to use a royalty-in-kind program. MMS has pilot RIK programs in place that allow producers to give the government its royalty oil from a lease in lieu of cash payments. But the program has not been expanded to include all federal leases.

The White House said it would like to use an expanded RIK system to fill the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, but stopped short of suggesting a complete overhaul of the royalty system. Rather than paying royalties in kind, producers now pay most federal royalties in cash.

Another battleground will be over limiting the scope of the Coastal Zone Management Act. House Republicans are said to be considering amendments that would limit the state appeal process regarding offshore drilling.

House Democrats, and some moderate Republicans that represent costal states, are expected to renew their opposition to offshore drilling. And in fact, the draft proposals under consideration may never find their way into committee.

Contact Maureen Lorenzetti at maureenl@ogjonline.com

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