OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Interior drilling chief calls GOP oil bill a ‘suicide pact’

EXCLUSIVE: Michael Bromwich, the Interior Department’s top offshore drilling regulator, is warning that a GOP-led bill to speed up Gulf of Mexico oil-and-gas lease sales is a recipe for a legal mess.

The House has passed a trio of bills over the last week aimed at speeding up offshore drilling permits, accelerating delayed Gulf of Mexico lease sales and opening big swaths of the Atlantic and Pacific coasts to drilling.

In an exclusive interview Thursday with The Hill, Bromwich — who leads Interior's Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement — had this to say about the bill that sets deadlines for Gulf sales:

“The one to accelerate lease sales ... would be, I think, struck down by the courts because the [bill] mandates us to rely on pre-Deepwater Horizon NEPA,” he said in reference to National Environmental Policy Act analyses conducted before the BP oil spill.

“Well, that’s sort of a suicide pact, where we’re going to go in, we’re going to be forced to do lease sales with inadequate environmental analysis and we’ll be enjoined from those lease sales. Who wins then? Nobody," he added of the bill that passed last week (more on the bills below).

Check out The Hill in print and online Friday for more from our exclusive interview.

Bromwich also went after the bill that sets new deadlines for his agency to act on industry offshore drilling permit applications. He defended the pace of deepwater permits the agency has been approving and noted that as of Thursday it has issued 14 permits for unique deepwater wells since Feb. 28.

“What [the GOP-led permitting bill] would do is it would tie our people up in paperwork because they have 30 days, and then if it’s not approved within 30 days they have to return it with a detailed explanation of why they turned it down, identifying the people who were involved in doing the analysis,” Bromwich said.

“That is a prescription for tying this agency up in red tape, when in fact our people are proceeding at a good and fair pace, and if you talk to people in industry candidly, they are quite pleased right now with the pace of our permitting. Of course they’d like it to speed up a bit. They always want it to speed up a bit,” he said.

The White House opposes the bills.

What’s next for Bromwich? Here’s a bit more that didn’t make it into our piece coming out tomorrow:

Bromwich isn’t saying what he’ll do after the completion of Interior’s offshore structural overhaul, which is slated to occur by Oct. 1. BOEMRE will be cleaved into two separate agencies: one that promotes resource development offshore and a separate branch to enforce environmental and safety regulations.

“I’m focused on making the reorganization be as successful as it could possibly be. We are on track to have the reorganization be complete by Oct. 1, but I’m really focused on that and have thought very little about what’s going to become of me and what I do after that,” Bromwich said.

The internal reception: Bromwich, who was appointed last June, has also faced challenges inside the agency that he’s tasked with reforming (and is careful to note that the level of corruption that existed inside the agency has been overstated).

“I became very quickly aware that my background caused people concern, and the way I was announced caused people some concern. I was going to clean up this agency,” the former Justice Department inspector general said.

But Bromwich believes that the concerns have eased as the overhaul has taken root. 

He said: “I think people have come to understand the rationale behind the reorganization, they understand its logic. What I think we encountered at the outset was a kind of defensive resistance you get to most proposals for major change in any organization, but as we have walked through and talked through the logic of the reorganization and people understand that it is designed to help everybody, it is designed to eliminate the institutional conflicts of interest that have existed for 30 years, and that people are going to be able to go about their daily work in an environment that is actually better to do the work than has been the case before, I think all of that has calmed things.”


NEWS BITES:

Republicans pass final component of offshore drilling package: House Republicans scored their final victory in a broad effort to pass legislation aimed at expanding domestic offshore oil drilling Thursday.

The House GOP approved the third bill in their three-part domestic oil production plan Thursday afternoon. The bill would open up new areas in the Pacific and Atlantic coasts, as well as off the coast of Alaska, to drilling.

Read more about the passage of the other two bills in the Republican drilling package here and here.

The bills, authored by House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings (R-Wash.), have very little chance of passing the Senate and being signed into law by President Obama. But their passage represents a political victory for Republicans, who have long-criticized the Obama administration’s offshore drilling policies.

Shaheen, Portman introduce efficiency bill: Sens. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio) introduced energy efficiency legislation Thursday that would boost Energy Department loan guarantees for building efficiency and put in place new standards for outdoor lighting and heating and cooling systems, among other things.

“This is a bipartisan effort to advance energy efficiency, one of the quickest and most affordable ways to lower energy costs for employers and consumers,” Portman said in a statement.


ON TAP THURSDAY:

• Energy Secretary Steven Chu will travel to Los Angeles Friday to "to celebrate the city’s success in electric vehicle and EV infrastructure deployment," according to the Energy Department.

• The House Science Committee will hold a hearing on "Nuclear Energy Risk Management."

• EPA air chief Gina McCarthy will testify in front of the House Energy and Commerce Committee during a hearing on a bill to speed up permitting of drilling off Alaska's coast.

• Bureau of Land Management Director Bob Abbey and Michael Bromwich, the Interior Department's top offshore drilling regulator, are slated to testify at a House Natural Resources Committee hearing on "roadblocks" to developing wind and solar on public lands.

• Reps. Mike Pompeo (R-Kan.) and Raul Labrador (R-Idaho) will hold a press conference with Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform on their "opposition to all energy subsidies."


IN CASE YOU MISSED IT….

Here’s a quick roundup of Thursday’s E2 stories:

— Oil executives blasted an effort by Senate Democrats to cut tax breaks
— Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) accused the GOP of ‘protecting’ oil companies
— The CEO of Exxon Mobil called Democrats’ effort to repeal oil industry tax breaks “misinformed and discriminatory”
— Senate Democrats slammed ConocoPhillips for calling the tax breaks plan “un-American”
— House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) won’t rule out using the debt ceiling as a vehicle to thwart climate rules
— Senate Democrats clashed with oil executives over oil tax breaks
— House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said he would consider scrapping oil tax breaks as part of a broad effort to cut the corporate tax rate
— The House passed a bill to expand offshore drilling

Please send tips and comments to Ben Geman, ben.geman@thehill.com, and Andrew Restuccia, arestuccia@thehill.com.

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