WASHINGTON – Congressional Republicans are planning to make another run at thwarting Obama administration conservation policies by forcing open additional federally owned lands to energy and mineral exploration.
The House Natural Resources Committee is preparing to consider two bills intended to make it easier to obtain the permits necessary to drill and dig on property owned by the U.S. government.
“Our onshore federal lands contain incredible potential for energy production, job creation and economic growth yet federal red-tape and regulations imposed by the Obama administration are keeping these resources under tight lock-and-key,” said Rep. Doc Hastings (R-Wash.), chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee.
The pending pieces of legislation, Hastings said, “help protect our oil and natural gas resources from onerous, duplicative federal regulatory hurdles and streamline the process so that energy production on federal lands can be as successful on private and state lands.”
The Federal Lands Jobs and Energy Security Act, sponsored Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.), streamlines the regulatory process for onshore oil, natural gas, and renewable energy resources. The bill would reform the leasing process for oil and natural gas projects on federal lands by reforming a lengthy energy permitting process and establishing rules for the development of oil shale resources.
Lawmakers also will consider legislation offered by Hastings and Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska) to require annual lease sales in the 23 million-acre National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska, streamline the permitting process in the region, and revoke an Obama administration management plan that they maintain hinders exploration.
President Obama’s conservation policy has long aggravated proponents of energy development who complain the administration is blocking and delaying access to oil and gas resources on public lands. The Bureau of Land Management administers mineral resources on 700 million acres of public lands, mostly in the west and Alaska. Of the total 700 million acres, 167 million have been withdrawn and another 182 million acres are restricted from future development.
Mitt Romney, the 2012 Republican presidential candidate, criticized Obama during the campaign for a decrease in drilling on federal lands during his first term.
“Public land should remain open and available for mineral exploration and development unless Congressional withdrawals or administrative actions are clearly justified in the national interest,” Lamborn said recently. “A thorough geological and economic assessment should be made before any land is withdrawn.”
Lamborn argued that restricting development of federal lands makes it difficult for U.S. companies to compete on the global investment market despite maintaining reserves of an estimated 78 mined minerals of importance. The U.S. currently attracts only about eight percent of the worldwide investment dollars.
“The complexity, uncertainty and delays within the current permitting system place the U.S. at a competitive disadvantage compared to many other countries that have a more welcoming business and regulatory climate,” Lamborn said.
In 2010, the Department of Energy determined that it takes seven to 10 years to obtain all the necessary permits for new mining ventures in the U.S. compared to a two- to three-year process in places like Canada and Australia. The barriers placed in digging its own soil means the U.S. relies too heavily on foreign markets to supply critical and rare-earth minerals even though America holds 40 percent of the world’s reserves.
That forces the U.S. to depend on China for a substantial portion of its rare-earth needs, an expensive proposition since the Chinese generally limit exports, causing the costs to skyrocket.
“The bottom line remains – America has abundant energy and mineral resources but instead of responsibly developing our own resources, we have allowed ourselves to become dependent on foreign countries,” Lamborn said.