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Shell moves closer to drilling in Arctic, EPA moves closer to less regulatory authority

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On Wednesday, the House passed a bill 253-166 to limit the authority of the Environmental Protection Agency and expedite the agency’s air quality permit process.

H.R. 2021, the Jobs and Energy Permitting Act of 2011, was introduced by Republican Rep. Cory Gardner of Colorado, and will alter the Clean Air Act by changing the physical location drilling vessels are required to be inspected at to determine their impact on air pollution from offshore to onshore. It also forces the EPA to make decisions regarding applications for clean air within six months.

Gardner, a freshman Rep. and the bill’s sponsor, received his second greatest amount of contributions during his campaign for the House in 2009-10 from the oil and gas industry.

The bill’s most vocal opponents, Rep. Bobby Rush, D-Ill, and Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif, frequently referred to it as “the Shell bill,” during the debate because they believe the bill was only drafted to facilitate Shell’s permit request to begin the drilling process in the Arctic waters off Alaska. According to Shell, the company has been trying to obtain a permit from the EPA for five years. However, representatives from the EPA said in a hearing in May before the Subcommittee on Energy and Power that Shell withdrew its permit application at least once and changed the location for the permit on other occasions, thus starting the process over.

Shell has reported spending $3.8 million lobbying in the first quarter of this year alone, according to the Sunlight Foundation’s Influence Explorer. The oil company has reported lobbying on many issues related to drilling and energy policy including permitting issues.

Gardner and other supporters of the bill cite the long and arduous process Shell claims to have gone through to get a clean air permit granted to them by the EPA as a need to cap the time allotted for making decisions on such applications.

Reps. opposing the bill called it a “give away” to the oil companies and damaging to the public’s opportunity to weigh in on such measures because the limit on time allowed to complete the permit process will take away from the public comments period and possibly make the permits issued less defendable in court. Opponents also say that based on the EPA’s reported consistent history of giving Shell permits within 3-6 months of application, this legislation is not necessary.