(For use by New York Times News Service Clients)
c.2012 Houston Chronicle
WASHINGTON - House Republicans on Wednesday took early steps toward overturning a new Obama administration plan for managing wildlife and oil development in the 23-million-acre National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska.
During a House subcommittee hearing on a bill to repeal the reserve management plan, Republicans said the administration's blueprint tilts too heavily toward conservation by walling off energy development in roughly half of the reserve.
"The Obama administration appears determined, against the wishes of most Alaskans, to keep their energy resources off limits," said Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., who sponsored the repeal bill along with Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska.
Finalized by the Interior Department in February, the management plan would allow companies to hunt for oil and gas in 11.8 million acres. It also explicitly would allow pipelines to cross the reserve, permission considered crucial to connecting potential oil development in Arctic waters with the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System.
Oil companies have warned, however, that the management plan could make it more difficult to place and build such pipelines, by potentially blocking the infrastructure through Teshekpuk Lake and at the most likely point for a Chukchi Sea pipeline to come ashore, Kasegaluk Lagoon. Navigating around those areas could be difficult and more costly than going straight through them.
The Hastings-Young bill would force the Interior Department to scrap the plan and start over.
Other bills considered by a House Natural Resources subcommittee on Wednesday aim to open more federal territory for oil development and overhaul the way U.S. drilling leases are sold. Similar measures passed the House last year but did not advance in the Senate.
One of the bills generally would force the Interior Department to process applications for permits to drill on federal land within 60 days, effectively deeming pending applications as approved if the deadline passes without action. The measure, sponsored by Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-Colo, also would prevent the Bureau of Land Management from collecting the $6,500 fee for processing those drilling permits until it issues a decision.
The acting deputy director of Interior's Bureau of Land Management, Jamie Connell, told lawmakers Wednesday the legislation would impose "unreasonable timeframes" for processing those permits.
At least one measure considered Wednesday is relatively non-controversial; the bill would allow the Interior Department to sell onshore oil and gas drilling leases via the Internet. XXX - End of Story<3D
By Jennifer A. Dlouhy