Landrieu continues blocking OMB pick despite drilling ban removal

Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) said she’s not ready to allow Senate confirmation of President Obama’s budget chief despite Tuesday’s removal of the federal deepwater oil-and-gas drilling ban, noting she must “look closely” at how the Interior Department handles permitting.

Landrieu in September had placed a “hold” on the nomination of Jacob Lew to direct the White House Office of Management and Budget until the deepwater ban is lifted and Interior speeds up permitting for shallow water projects.

She and other Gulf Coast lawmakers say the restrictions are harming the region’s oil-tethered economy. 

“I am not going to release my hold on Jack Lew. Instead, I will take this time to look closely at how [Interior] is handling the issuing of permits and whether or not drilling activity in both shallow and deep water is resuming. When Congress reconvenes for the lame duck session next month, I will have had several weeks to evaluate if today’s lifting of the moratorium is actually putting people back to work,” Landrieu said in a prepared statement Tuesday after the Interior Department announced the lifting of the deepwater ban ahead of schedule.

She called the decision “a good start,” but added, “it must be accompanied by an action plan to get the entire industry in the Gulf of Mexico back to work.” 

“This means that the administration must continue to accelerate the granting of permits in shallow and deep water, and provide greater certainty about the rules and regulations industry must meet,” she said.

But the concern among drilling proponents is that the lifting of the official moratorium is not going to do much to open up development any time soon. They point to the slowdown in drilling in shallow waters even absent an official ban since the Gulf of Mexico oil spill began in April.

Stephen Brown, vice president
 and counsel for federal affairs at the independent refiner Tesoro Corp, said he expects a “de facto moratorium in place on the deepwater stuff for a long time to come.”

“This is just window dressing,” he said.

“I guess this is movement in the right direction, but it's painfully slow,” Sen. David Vitter (R-La.), said. “It's clear that President Obama is going to preside over a continuing de facto moratorium for months or years, with new drilling held back to a fraction of previous levels.”