US House committee passes bill aimed at streamlining offshore permitting
The US House Natural Resources Committee approved a measure that aims to streamline offshore oil and gas producers’ applications for incidental harassment authorizations not directly related to exploration and production. H.R. 3133 passed by voice vote on Jan. 10 after two amendments proposed by Democrats on the committee were defeated.
The bill, which Rep. Mike Johnson (R-La.) introduced on June 29, 2017, would amend portions of the 1972 Marine Mammal Protection Act. It specifically would exempt an authorized taking—the accidental killing of a fish or mammal—from prohibition under Section 9 of the 1973 Endangered Species Act.
“Washington bureaucrats should never have the authority to halt coastal initiatives based on their own politically biased agendas. Yet many permit approvals are prolonged, including coastal restoration efforts and critical naval operations, specifically for that reason,” Johnson said following the vote to send the measure to the House floor.
“Dogma and outdated federal mandates are stalling beneficial conservation and economic development activities,” said Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah), the committee’s chairman. “This bill establishes accountability within the bureaucracy and reconciles conflicting federal requirements to make the law work better for people and the environment.”
Ranking Minority Member Raul M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.) called the measure “a dangerous bill that was solely written to fulfill the oil and gas industries wish list” and vowed to oppose it further if it comes before the full House.
“No one supports this bill other than big industries that will profit from more drilling,” Grijalva said. “Republicans should be listening to the scientists who support keeping the Marine Mammal Protection Act in place, the coastal communities who oppose opening our oceans to drilling, and the government officials who say this will add undue burden on the federal agencies.”
The committee approved Johnson’s bill less than a week after the Government Accountability Office publicly released findings that both the National Marine Fisheries Service and US Fish & Wildlife Service need to better explain how they conduct incidental harassment permit reviews for offshore oil and gas geologic and geophysical surveys to meet the US Bureau of Ocean Energy Management’s 120-day deadline.
GAO investigators found that NMFS, which is part of the US Department of Commerce’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, could not provide accurate dates on when the agency deems an application adequate and complete, while FWS, a US Department of the Interior agency like BOEM, does not even record the information.