Murkowski Criticizes EPA Administrator over Recent Decision, Demands Fair Treatment for Alaska

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, today questioned Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson on a series of development projects in Alaska that have been adversely impacted by the agency’s decisions, including efforts to explore for oil and gas in the Beaufort Sea and the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska.

Murkowski pressed Jackson in her opening statement at Wednesday’s Senate Appropriations Subcommittee hearing on EPA’s 2012 budget proposal.

Sen. Murkowski’s opening statement (as prepared for delivery): 

“I recognize that this is an appropriations hearing about your FY 2012 budget request, but Administrator Jackson, most of my questions for you will involve policy. Simply put, the actions that your agency has taken have had dire consequences for my state. 

“When I travel around Alaska, and I can tell you after the last campaign, I’ve travelled just about everywhere, one agency gets more public scorn than any other – and that’s the EPA. And I can tell you that the agency is in a league of its own in this regard. People feel that you are literally a threat to their very livelihood and the state’s economic survival. I’ve had many folks tell me ‘Lisa, you need to rein in the EPA. They’re going to put us out of business.’ It’s amazing to me that EPA has decided to make Alaska, of all places, its problem child. We have cleaner air and water than just about anywhere in the world and we’ve been mining and drilling for oil and gas for many, many decades.

“As I look at the House Fiscal Year 2011 Continuing Resolution (HR 1) that we voted on last week, Alaskans are clearly not alone in this view. Of the 21 amendments related to energy and the environment that were voted on by the House, nine of them placed funding limitations on various EPA policies. 

“One of those amendments that passed was offered by my colleague from Alaska, concerning air permits that Shell Oil applied for in the Beaufort Sea. Shell has spent five years and $50 million pursuing air permits from the EPA for no more than two drill ships to operate in the Arctic Outer Continental Shelf. Just last month, the EPA’s Environmental Appeals Board rejected the permits and remanded them back to the Agency’s Region 10 for more analysis. Shell has now dropped its plans to drill in the Beaufort this summer costing the company even more money and the state more jobs. This delay is 100 percent the EPA’s making.

“I simply can’t understand how it can take so long for the agency to approve an air permit for a drilling rig that will operate 25 to 75 miles offshore, less than one-quarter of the year. These kinds of permits are issued routinely in the Gulf of Mexico in six weeks – in air sheds where there are many more drilling rigs operating year-round and with many more communities in close proximity. In Shell’s case, there was supposed to be one drill ship and the nearest area that would possibly face any impacts on air quality is the North Slope Borough. The borough is 88,000 square miles – bigger than 39 states – and has roughly 7,000 people spread across this vast area. The activities right in their backyard at Prudhoe Bay and other fields haven’t had to go through this level of delay.

“Other recent actions by the EPA have been equally frustrating. ConocoPhilips submitted an application to the Army Corps of Engineers for a project known as CD-5 that would bring the first oil to market from the National Petroleum Reserve – Alaska (NPR-A). A necessary part of the project requires building a bridge over the Colville River. Contrary to the statute passed by Congress establishing the reserve for the expeditious exploration and development of the oil and gas resources, the EPA used an arbitrary designation that is neither in regulation nor in statute called an Aquatic Resource of National Importance (ARNI) to threaten to override the Corps’ decision and prohibit construction of the bridge.

“I sent a letter to you asking about Aquatic Resource of National Importance designations (ARNIs) and what standards are used when applying them. I just received a response and it does not alleviate my concerns. I’m extremely concerned that by using this designation, the agency has essentially the ability to preemptively signal a veto for projects under Section 404(c) of the Clean Water Act. And what is troubling to Alaskans is that this designation appears to have been used only 16 times in an 18-year period up to 2010, but was then used in Alaska twice in six months.

“Finally, I’m concerned by the process that the EPA is using to conduct a watershed assessment for Bristol Bay. This assessment is in response to a petition from the environmental community to block the proposed Pebble Mine under the Clean Water Act. This is a controversial and very complex issue. I have not taken a position on the mining project itself because I believe it is premature to do so before the company has even submitted a permit application. 

“For this same reason, the EPA should be completely transparent in conducting this watershed assessment – not simply use it as cover to support a later decision to veto the mine. At a minimum, the process that you use should comply with the Administrative Procedures Act, provide for peer review of the scientific and economic analysis, and solicit input from all affected stakeholders.

“You may have the toughest job in this town right now Administrator Jackson.  Your agency has become a lightning rod and many people would like to see the EPA abolished or its budget slashed. I don’t think that is a solution to the issues many of us have with your agency. I do not want to abolish your agency – I simply want EPA to do its job. Implicit in the agency doing its job is fair treatment of those whom you regulate. EPA shouldn’t take six years and $50 million to approve air permits for leases that companies paid billions of dollars for at the invitation of the federal government. EPA shouldn’t use arbitrary designations like Aquatic Resource of National Importance to override statutes passed by the Congress in order to block critical projects that support our nation’s energy security. And EPA shouldn’t use a process that is tantamount to preemptively rejecting a multi-billion dollar project before an application is ever even submitted for a permit.”

Sen. Murkowski’s opening statement can be viewed here.