House passes Interior appropriations bill with several restrictions

The US House approved a fiscal 2017 appropriations bill for the US Department of the Interior and related federal entities including the US Environmental Protection Agency by 231 to 196 votes. The July 14 action nearly followed party lines as 13 Republicans voted with Democrats against the measure.

Supporters clearly wanted to send a message to the Obama administration. “[Its] executive overreach is in overdrive as the president’s second term nears an end,” Natural Resources Committee Chairman Rob Bishop (R-Utah) declared following the vote.

“They’ve prioritized their regulatory regime over the American people. With that, there is a need for Congress to reassert the power of the purse. Through this legislation we limit the seemingly endless list of regulatory attacks on domestic natural resource development,” he continued.

Officials from national oil and gas associations applauded the House’s approval of the bill, which prohibits or denies funding for several programs that the administration has announced in the last 12-18 months. But the measure’s prospects of moving further remained uncertain.

The committee said that HR 5538’s provisions affecting oil and gas included:

 · Prohibition of funds to implement the well control rule and US Bureau of Land Management’s methane rule.

 · Denial of funds to implement or enforce BLM’s final hydraulic fracturing rule on federal and Indian lands.

 · Prohibition of funds to implementing the US Bureau of Ocean Energy Management’s offshore Arctic oil and gas rule.

 · Denial of funds to remove three Arctic sales from DOI’s proposed 2017-22 US Outer Continental Shelf oil and gas leasing program.

 · Prevention of funding for BOEM to update existing financial assurance regulations on financial assurance provisions in its recently announce offshore well decommissioning rule changes (OGJ Online, July 14, 2016).

 · Denial of funds to implement a final plan designating areas of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska as wilderness.

 · Prevention of the US Fish and Wildlife Service’s listing of the greater sage grouse or lesser prairie chicken as endangered or threat under the federal Endangered Species Act.

 · Prohibition of BLM’s implementation of resource management plans for the Greater Sage Grouse that are inconsistent with states’ conservation plans.

 · And denial of funds for FWS to implement or enforce the threatened species or endangered species listing of any plant or wildlife that has not undergone a periodic 5-year review.

Officials from oil and gas industry groups responded favorably to the House’s action. “The House will go a long way to creating American jobs by supporting the industry’s ability to explore, develop, transport and deliver the affordable energy that US consumers rely upon,” said Louis Finkel, the American Petroleum Institute’s executive vice-president for government affairs.

“This bill supports the continued advancement of the US energy renaissance and provides an alternative vision from the attempts by the administration to force the US to take a step backwards on energy policy,” he indicated.

“The bill prevents the federal government from implementing the flawed one-size-fits-all well control rule until numerous implementation questions are fully answered,” National Ocean Industries Association Pres. Randall B. Luthi said. “[It] also delays implementation of new offshore decommissioning bonding requirements which are based on incomplete data and amount to a solution in search of a problem, and it keeps the government from implementing the overly prescriptive and generally unworkable Arctic drilling regulations.”

He added that HR 5538 also would keep federal waters, including offshore Alaska areas, opening for oil and gas exploration, which Luthi said would strengthen the nation’s economic and energy future.

“Likewise, by keeping Atlantic and eastern Gulf of Mexico waters open to research and exploration using modern seismic surveys, we can help further our understanding of America’s true offshore energy potential,” NOIA’s president said. “The bill rightfully keeps Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act funds in states that host offshore energy development, prevents further implementation of the administration’s ocean zoning executive order, and allows for the continued use of environmentally safe well-stimulation techniques offshore California.”

Independent Petroleum Association of America Pres. Barry Russell said that the House-approved measure addressed several of IPAA’s key regulatory priorities, “including prohibiting the Interior Department from implementing its ‘Washington knows best’ approach to regulate hydraulic fracturing and its ‘one size fits all’ mandate on offshore drilling; enforcement of the [DOI’s] proposal to address methane emissions; and providing reasonable implementation of the 2015 National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) for ozone.”

Russell said that one of Congress’s key responsibilities, as outlined in the US Constitution, is to appropriate funds for the federal government to operate. “Any opportunity to pass an appropriations bill through regular order, with the input of the people’s elected representatives, is simply good governance,” he observed.

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com.

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