Mr. LOWENTHAL. Mr. Chairman, I yield myself such time as I may consume.
The amendment I offer today maintains the Interior Department's ability to review oil and gas activities for significant impacts on public health and safety, among other extraordinary circumstances.
While predictable, it is unfortunate that the majority again and again is willing to throw out basic health and safety protections in order to speed up oil and gas extractions for industry. Whether it is in this oil and gas industry bill today, in last week's mining industry bill, or in tomorrow's natural gas industry bill, the majority's common theme is that of getting rid of transparency and protections for public health and safety and of threatening our environment in the name of increased
profits for industry.
This is not okay with me. This is not why I came to Washington.
The oil and gas industry is the most profitable in the world, and the rates of domestic extraction have increased under the Obama administration. ExxonMobil reported a net income of over $44 billion in 2012. I know it and Wall Street knows it, and their balance sheets prove it. These companies are doing fine. So why are we stripping our oversight agencies and the ability of the public to ensure that extraction is done responsibly and not at the expense of the welfare of this and future generations?
I think it is shortsighted; I think it is irresponsible; and I think it is wrong.
H.R. 1965, as it is currently written, would prevent the Interior Department from reviewing oil and gas activities that would otherwise qualify for skipping the National Environmental Policy Act for extraordinary circumstances.
Section 390 of the Energy and Policy Act of 2005 allows certain qualifying oil and gas activities to potentially skip a full NEPA process through a categorical exclusion. Title 43 of section 46.205 of the Code of Federal Regulations requires that the Interior Department test for extraordinary circumstances in which a normally excluded action may have a significant environmental effect and require additional analysis and action. Title 43 of section 46.215 of the Code of Federal Regulations goes
on to list the types of extraordinary circumstances to be tested before proceeding with a categorical exclusion for the oil and gas activity.
Thus, before the Interior Department bypasses NEPA, this is what it currently checks for:
Are there significant impacts upon public health or safety? Are there violations of Federal, State, local, or tribal law? Are there limits to access and ceremonial use of Indian sacred sites? Is there the introduction, continued existence, or spread of noxious weeds or of nonnative invasive species? It also lists eight other potential significant problems.
This is what the existing law and regulation does. It helps to protect the public and the environment during oil and gas activities. Simply speaking, H.R. 1965 eliminates these protections. My amendment would simply preserve them, and I urge a ``yes'' vote.
I reserve the balance of my time.
Mr. HASTINGS of Washington. Mr. Chairman, I yield myself such time as I may consume.
This amendment would increase regulatory red tape and opportunities for frivolous lawsuits to stop what we are trying to do here--American energy production and job creation. It would achieve the exact opposite of what our Nation needs and what the bill provides.
H.R. 1965 seeks to streamline and expedite the onshore oil and gas and renewable permitting process, and it does so in a safe and responsible way. This amendment would simply reinject the same uncertainty and bureaucracy into the permitting process that this legislation seeks to do away with.
The Energy Policy Act of 2005, Mr. Chairman, established in a broad, bipartisan fashion the use of categorical exclusions for energy projects in specific and limited circumstances. This provision was intended to expedite the permit approvals of certain energy projects on disturbed land, on operations with a small footprint, or in areas that were previously approved in recent years. Again, the Energy Policy Act of 2005 was a bipartisan attempt, and this provision which I just described was part
of the 2005 Act.
These pro-energy reforms are designed to allow minor actions that do not significantly affect the environment to move forward without the burdensome and lengthy full costly environmental review.
To the point the gentleman is making and what the gentleman's amendment addresses, this legislation clarifies the Department's ability to use the categorical exclusion tool to quickly permit energy projects. This amendment, unfortunately, would require the Department of the Interior to unreasonably review what we call ``extraordinary circumstances'' which require additional NEPA reviews, thereby essentially negating any value from expediting a project and inserting more certainty into an already
uncertain energy permitting process.
The intent of this legislation is to streamline and simplify projects that are held up, often for years, in bureaucratic red tape and regulatory uncertainty. This amendment backtracks [Page: H7226]
from the goal by injecting more bureaucracy and regulatory hurdles into the process.
Mr. Chairman, I don't think this amendment adds anything to what we are trying to accomplish. In fact, I think it goes the other way. It goes the other way in such a way that negates what the Energy Act of 2005 in a bipartisan manner said.
I urge rejection of the amendment, and I reserve the balance of my time.
Mr. LOWENTHAL. Thank you.
Mr. Chairman, the gentleman from Washington is saying that, if we remove the extraordinary circumstances part of seeing whether, in fact, we grant a categorical exemption--what my amendment does by saying ``no'' is that the public must have an opportunity, if we are going to grant an exemption, which we think is fine, but what is wrong with finding out whether there is going to be a significant impact on health and safety? What is wrong with finding out if there is going to be a violation of
State, Federal, local, or tribal law? What is wrong with understanding what are the limits to access to ceremonial use of sacred sites? He says that by asking these questions before we give an exemption, that this imposes regulatory red tape that is exactly the opposite of what the Nation needs, it is more bureaucracy.
It is just the opposite. This protects the Nation. This allows us to understand, when we are given a categorical exemption, that we are protecting the public health of the Nation.
I urge an ``aye'' vote on my amendment, and I yield back the balance of my time.