DOI's OCS public comment process limited, House Republicans charge

Ranking minority members of two US House committees expressed concern that the Department of the Interior is limiting public comments on a proposed five-year Outer Continental Shelf leasing plan.

Apr 10th, 2009

Ranking minority members of two US House committees expressed concern on Apr. 7 that the US Department of the Interior is limiting public comments as it considers a comprehensive five-year US Outer Continental Shelf leasing plan.

"The system currently in place fails to meet a simple standard of inclusion to promote and facilitate an open exchange of public opinion," Doc Hastings (R-Wash.), of the Natural Resources Committee, and Darrell E. Issa (R-Calif.), of the Oversight and Investigations Committee, said in a letter to US Interior Secretary Ken Salazar.

Persons wishing to submit comments must either mail or hand-deliver them to DOI headquarters in Washington, or "attempt to navigate the sprawling online database known as Regulations.gov, where users must first successfully input 'docket IDs,' 'legacy numbers' and an 'RIN' before they have any chance of advancing to the main comment submission page,'" the two House members said.

They called the new policy "an unconstructive change" from the previous system. "The department's public comment process was especially user-friendly under the Bush administration, which enable Americans to easily submit their comments through a simple e-mail address. The department should immediately reinstate the user-friendly e-mail public comment system," they said.

A DOI spokesman said on Apr. 8 that the Bush administration made the decision to use the automated Regulations.gov system to receive and process comments on the draft proposed five-year OCS program. US Minerals Management Service staff members recommended replacing an earlier system, Public Connect, with Regulations.gov because the updated version has automated functions which sort, tally and post public comments, he said in an e-mail message.

Hastings and Issa said they were also troubled to learn that DOI's webcast of its Apr. 6 OCS public meeting in New Jersey ended at noon, nearly eight hours before the meeting's actual conclusion. "Since many Americans took their personal time to participate in this public comment session until eight o'clock in the evening, we cannot understand why the department would end the webcast at the time you departed and before the majority of the public finally had their chance to stand up, speak and be heard," they told Salazar.

The DOI spokesman said that significantly higher costs for a full-day webcast during the current economic downturn led to the decision to put only the first three hours online live. Transcripts of the entire proceedings will be available later online at www.doi.gov/ocs and www.mms.gov, he said.

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com

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