Murkowski Introduces Bill to Improve Offshore Permitting Process

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, has introduced legislation to improve permitting of offshore oil and natural gas activity in Alaska and beyond. The Offshore Energy and Jobs Permitting Act would stop the Environmental Protection Agency’s internal appeals process from being used to kill projects through delay.

“We need to end the practice of outside groups using the appeals board to veto offshore energy development in Alaska and elsewhere,” Murkowski said. “The EPA plays an important role in protecting the environment. It must be allowed to fulfill that role without having its decisions second guessed through a flawed appeals process.”

The bipartisan bill is cosponsored by Sens. James Inhofe, R-OK; John Barrasso, R-WY; Rob Portman, R-OH; John Hoeven, R-ND; John Cornyn, R-TX; Roy Blunt, R-MO; Dan Coats, R-IN; Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-TX; Bob Corker, R-TN; John Thune, R-SD; Richard Lugar, R-IN; Mark Begich, D-AK; and Mary Landrieu, D-LA.

While the Department of Interior is responsible for permitting in the Gulf of Mexico – and has a track record of approving or denying applications in a timely manner – on Alaska’s outer continental shelf permitting is handled by the EPA.

Under the current system, companies that have paid billions of dollars for offshore oil and gas leases are subject to an endless regulatory loop where the EPA has been unable to issue a permit capable of withstanding its own appeals process. The appeals board is made up of environmental attorneys acting as judges though they are neither confirmed nor authorized by Congress.

“We have companies that have spent more than five years and billions of dollars attempting to conduct offshore exploration and production in Alaska, but have been unable to secure the necessary permits from EPA,” Murkowski said. “It’s clear that this process is not just overly costly and time-consuming, but simply does not work.”

Murkowski told members of a House subcommittee in April that if the EPA’s handling of the permitting process continued to breakdown at the appeals board level, she would have no recourse but to seek to transfer authority back to Interior.

“If the EPA cannot demonstrate some competency, especially as congressional urging and intent becomes more clear, then EPA should not expect to keep its authority for long,” Murkowski said in April.

The Offshore Energy and Jobs and Permitting Act would:

  • Amend current law to require air-emission impacts be measured onshore – not offshore – and clarify that any drilling vessel will be regulated as a stationary source once drilling starts;
  • Ensure that the appeals board no longer claims authority to consider or invalidate permits for offshore exploration, allowing instead for review in federal court;
  • Require EPA to grant or deny a permit within six months of the filing of a completed application. 

This legislation is a companion measure to H.R. 2021, The Jobs and Energy Permitting Act, introduced by Rep. Cory Gardner and voted out of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.