White House bashes GOP drilling bills but doesn't threaten vetoes

The White House is attacking a pair of GOP offshore drilling bills that are on the House floor, alleging they would “undercut” safety and environmental reforms established after the BP oil spill.

But the formal “statement of administration policy” on the measures issued Thursday stopped short of threatening to veto the bills.

The statement said the administration is committed to “safe and responsible” U.S. oil and natural gas production and claims the GOP plans would unravel steps taken toward that goal.

“These reforms strengthen requirements for issues ranging from well design to workplace safety to corporate accountability, and they require operators to show that they can contain a subsea oil spill like the Deepwater Horizon oil spill,” the statement claims.

“The administration opposes H.R. 1230 and H.R. 1229, as reported by the House Committee on Natural Resources, both of which would undercut these critical reforms,” it states.

The drilling bills reflect GOP claims that the Obama administration is keeping too many areas off-limits and slow-walking permit requests.

The House will vote Thursday on a bill that would set a deadline for conducting delayed Gulf of Mexico lease sales. It would also require sale of oil-and-gas leases off the coast of Virginia, a plan the administration had scuttled.

The White House alleges that the Gulf sale provisions in the bill would shortchange review under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

“H.R. 1230 would hastily open areas of the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic to leasing, including requiring the Department of the Interior (DOI) to hold three lease sales in the Gulf of Mexico using outdated NEPA analysis that was conducted before the Deepwater Horizon oil spill,” it states.

“The administration has strengthened NEPA analysis in light of lessons learned from the spill. DOI intends to hold all three Gulf of Mexico lease sales referenced in the bill by mid-2012,” the White House said.

The second bill, slated for a vote next week, would set new deadlines for the Interior Department to act on — although not approve — industry offshore drilling permit applications.

It sets a 30-day deadline, although two 15-day extensions are possible, and permits would be “deemed” approved if Interior has not acted after the 60 days.

The White House statement claims the bill could pave the way for mandatory approval of permits even if companies have not demonstrated they will meet safety standards, and argues that the administration is moving ahead with permitting at a good clip anyway.

“Fifty-one new shallow-water permits have been issued since the administration’s stronger safety standards were put in place, and deepwater permit applications also are being processed in a timely manner. Since the end of February, when industry first demonstrated to safety regulators the capability to contain a subsea spill, 12 deepwater wells have been permitted,” the White House said.

An aide to House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) said Wednesday that the House will also vote next week on a third drilling bill. It would vastly expand the coastal areas that must be offered for oil-and-gas development. Click here for more on the GOP package of offshore drilling bills.