Today in North Dakota, Secretary Salazar announced that the Interior Department would automate the approval process of applications for permits to drill (APDs). The department claims that the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) new system, expected to be online by May 2013, would create “greater online accessibility and transparency” and would reduce approval times from an average of 298 day to 60 days.
Improving the permitting process is never a bad thing. That's why the Chamber has made reducing overly burdensome regulations part of its American Jobs and Growth Agenda. However, what the department is touting is not a new innovation. The program they dug out is the same one they’ve been trying to eliminate the last three years.
According to minority staff of the Senate Energy Committee, Section 365 of the Energy Policy Act (EPAct) of 2005 created a pilot program to streamline the oil and gas drilling permit process (see text below). The law names locations of the BLM field offices that house the pilot program, one being in Carlsbad, New Mexico. We’ll get to that in a moment.
The administration hasn’t been a fan of the program. In budget requests for fiscal years 2013, 2012, 2011, and 2010, it asked Congress to repeal the program:
The Administration proposes to repeal portions of Section 365 of the Energy Policy Act, beginning in 2014.
The Administration proposes to repeal portions of Section 365 of the Energy Policy Act, beginning in 2013.
The Administration will submit legislation to repeal portions of Section 365 of the Energy Policy Act, beginning in 2012.
The Administration will submit legislation to repeal portions of Section 365 of the Energy Policy Act, which diverted mineral leasing receipts from the Treasury to a BLM Permit Processing Improvement Fund….
Year in and year out the administration has wanted the pilot program to go away.
Now, back to Carlsbad, New Mexico. Here’s part of today’s Interior Department’s press release patting itself on the back [emphasis mine]:
Currently, on average, approximately two-thirds of the time it takes to process an APD is spent waiting for more information from the operator-applicant. The new system will allow the public and operators to view the BLM processing status of APDs, enabling operators to more promptly address deficiencies in their applications. BLM’s Carlsbad Field Office is currently piloting a similar system, which has resulted in a nearly two-thirds reduction in processing time for that region.
The Interior Department is taking credit for a program they have consistently tried to shut down, similar to taking credit for increased oil production that resulted not from its own policies, but, rather, from those implemented by previous administrations.
It’s always good when the administration moves policy toward expanding domestic oil and gas development, but did it have to be so brazen?
(a) Establishment- The Secretary of the Interior (referred to in this section as the `Secretary') shall establish a Federal Permit Streamlining Pilot Project (referred to in this section as the `Pilot Project').
(b) Memorandum of Understanding-
(1) IN GENERAL- Not later than 90 days after the date of enactment of this Act, the Secretary shall enter into a memorandum of understanding for purposes of this section with--
(A) the Secretary of Agriculture;
(B) the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency; and
(C) the Chief of Engineers.
(2) STATE PARTICIPATION- The Secretary may request that the Governors of Wyoming, Montana, Colorado, Utah, and New Mexico be signatories to the memorandum of understanding.
(c) Designation of Qualified Staff-
(1) IN GENERAL- Not later than 30 days after the date of the signing of the memorandum of understanding under subsection (b), all Federal signatory parties shall, if appropriate, assign to each of the field offices identified in subsection (d) an employee who has expertise in the regulatory issues relating to the office in which the employee is employed, including, as applicable, particular expertise in--
(A) the consultations and the preparation of biological opinions under section 7 of the Endangered Species Act of 1973 (16 U.S.C. 1536);
(B) permits under section 404 of Federal Water Pollution Control Act (33 U.S.C. 1344);
(C) regulatory matters under the Clean Air Act (42 U.S.C. 7401 et seq.);
(D) planning under the National Forest Management Act of 1976 (16 U.S.C. 472a et seq.); and
(E) the preparation of analyses under the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (42 U.S.C. 4321 et seq.).
(2) DUTIES- Each employee assigned under paragraph (1) shall--
(A) not later than 90 days after the date of assignment, report to the Bureau of Land Management Field Managers in the office to which the employee is assigned;
(B) be responsible for all issues relating to the jurisdiction of the home office or agency of the employee; and
(C) participate as part of the team of personnel working on proposed energy projects, planning, and environmental analyses.
(d) Field Offices- The following Bureau of Land Management Field Offices shall serve as the Pilot Project offices:
(1) Rawlins, Wyoming.
(2) Buffalo, Wyoming.
(3) Miles City, Montana.
(4) Farmington, New Mexico.
(5) Carlsbad, New Mexico.
(6) Grand Junction/Glenwood Springs, Colorado.
(7) Vernal, Utah.
(e) Reports- Not later than 3 years after the date of enactment of this Act, the Secretary shall submit to Congress a report that--
(1) outlines the results of the Pilot Project to date; and
(2) makes a recommendation to the President regarding whether the Pilot Project should be implemented throughout the United States.
(f) Additional Personnel- The Secretary shall assign to each field office identified in subsection (d) any additional personnel that are necessary to ensure the effective implementation of--
(1) the Pilot Project; and
(2) other programs administered by the field offices, including inspection and enforcement relating to energy development on Federal land, in accordance with the multiple use mandate of the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976 (43 U.S.C. 1701 et seq.).
(g) Permit Processing Improvement Fund- Section 35 of the Mineral Leasing Act (30 U.S.C. 191) is amended by adding at the end the following:
`(c)(1) Notwithstanding the first sentence of subsection (a), any rentals received from leases in any State (other than the State of Alaska) on or after the date of enactment of this subsection shall be deposited in the Treasury, to be allocated in accordance with paragraph (2).
`(2) Of the amounts deposited in the Treasury under paragraph (1)--
`(A) 50 percent shall be paid by the Secretary of the Treasury to the State within the boundaries of which the leased land is located or the deposits were derived; and
`(B) 50 percent shall be deposited in a special fund in the Treasury, to be known as the `BLM Permit Processing Improvement Fund' (referred to in this subsection as the `Fund').
`(3) For each of fiscal years 2006 through 2015, the Fund shall be available to the Secretary of the Interior for expenditure, without further appropriation and without fiscal year limitation, for the coordination and processing of oil and gas use authorizations on onshore Federal land under the jurisdiction of the Pilot Project offices identified in section 365(d) of the Energy Policy Act of 2005.'.
(h) Transfer of Funds- For the purposes of coordination and processing of oil and gas use authorizations on Federal land under the administration of the Pilot Project offices identified in subsection (d), the Secretary may authorize the expenditure or transfer of such funds as are necessary to--
(1) the United States Fish and Wildlife Service;
(2) the Bureau of Indian Affairs;
(3) the Forest Service;
(4) the Environmental Protection Agency;
(5) the Corps of Engineers; and
(6) the States of Wyoming, Montana, Colorado, Utah, and New Mexico.
(i) Fees- During the period in which the Pilot Project is authorized, the Secretary shall not implement a rulemaking that would enable an increase in fees to recover additional costs related to processing drilling-related permit applications and use authorizations.
(j) Savings Provision- Nothing in this section affects--
(1) the operation of any Federal or State law; or
(2) any delegation of authority made by the head of a Federal agency whose employees are participating in the Pilot Project.