OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Republicans to ramp up drilling push with new bills

Hastings told The Hill earlier this month that he will introduce a bill aimed at speeding up Gulf of Mexico development. He also said he would introduce legislation that would focus on oil-and-gas development outside the Gulf.

On Thursday, Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) will introduce a bill to speed up Gulf oil-and-gas permitting. Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah) will introduce companion legislation in the House.

The bill, according to a Senate aide familiar with the legislation, would direct the Interior Department to issue permits more quickly, conduct more offshore lease sales, and open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling. It would expedite the environmental review process for various energy projects.

The legislation would also block EPA climate-change rules.

Republicans have blasted the Obama administration’s offshore drilling policies, arguing that the Interior Department is moving too slowly in issuing deepwater drilling permits in the Gulf of Mexico.

The Interior Department has issued six deepwater drilling permits for the type of projects that were halted in the aftermath of last year’s Gulf oil spill.

STAY TUNED: Look for The Hill’s print edition Tuesday, where we explore what the battle over Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) climate rules means for senators facing reelection in 2012. 


NEWS BITES:

Fate of amendments to block EPA climate rules unclear

The outlook for Senate consideration of three amendments to small-business legislation that would block or limit the EPA from regulating greenhouse gas emissions remained unclear Monday evening.

Top Senate Democrats met in Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-Nev.) office Monday evening to discuss the floor schedule for the small-business bill. But senators said no decisions were made.

"There are a number of amendments and they are still working on a lot of the negotiations, so I don't think it is definitely decided at this point," Sen. Patty Murray (Wash.), a member of the Democratic leadership team, said after the meeting.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has introduced an amendment to the small-business legislation that would permanently block the EPA’s authority to regulate greenhouse gases.

The legislation mirrors a bill authored by Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.). Companion legislation in the House passed a key committee earlier this month and is expected to come up on the House floor in the coming weeks.

Democrats introduced two amendments to limit EPA’s authority. The first, by Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), would delay the implementation of EPA’s climate rules for two years. The second, introduced by Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), would codify EPA plans to exempt small polluters from climate rules and exempt the agriculture sector from the rules.

McConnell said Monday night that a vote on his amendment could be embarrassing for Democrats.

“It’s pretty clear the Democrats are having a hard time getting the votes to beat it,” he said. “My assumption is that there will be one or more alternatives offered where they hope to get enough people in line to defeat it.”

Public health groups blast Rockefeller amendment

A coalition of public health groups is circulating a letter to senators urging them to oppose an amendment to small-business legislation that would delay for two years EPA climate change rules.

The amendment, which is expected to come up for a vote on the Senate floor this week, is less stringent than a separate amendment offered by McConnell that would permanently block the agency’s climate rules.

The two-year delay amendment, authored by Rockefeller, would allow vulnerable Democrats to vote in favor of reeling in the EPA without completely eliminating its authority.

But the public health groups blasted that option Monday.

“If passed by Congress, this legislation would interfere with EPA’s ability to implement the Clean Air Act; a law that protects public health and reduces health care costs for all by preventing thousands of adverse health outcomes, including: cancer, asthma attacks, heart attacks, strokes, emergency department visits, hospitalizations and premature deaths,” the groups said in the letter.

The exact timeframe for a vote on the McConnell and Rockefeller amendments — as well as a third amendment by Baucus to exempt agriculture from EPA rules — is unclear.

The letter was signed by the American Lung Association, Physicians for Social Responsibility and the American Public Health Association, among others.

Interior issues offshore drilling permit application guidance

The Interior Department’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement issued guidance Monday meant to provide industry clarity in meeting the department’s new offshore drilling regulations.

BOEMRE stressed that there are no additional regulatory requirements in the guidance.

“This guidance document gives deepwater drilling operators additional information to help address some of the recurring issues that have been raised in our ongoing discussions with industry,” BOEMRE Director Michael Bromwich said in a statement.

The American Petroleum Institute praised the guidance.

"Today's announcement by the BOEMRE is a positive step towards getting Americans back to work in the Gulf of Mexico," Erik Milito, upstream director at API, said. "Ensuring a clear, consistent, and efficient process for offshore regulatory requirements and for approvals of permits is a crucial component to steadily increasing offshore production.”

Renewble energy groups urge Capitol Hill to preserve loan support

Renewable energy trade groups are urging House and Senate leaders from both parties not to cut loan guarantees for their sector in talks over funding the government for the rest of the fiscal year.

“[W]e urge Congress to preserve investments in critical renewable energy programs, including full funding for the Department of Energy Loan Guarantee Program, as it works to fund the government for the remainder of FY2011,” states a letter Monday from groups representing wind developers, ethanol producers and others.


ON TAP TUESDAY:

Japan nukes crisis is front and center on Capitol Hill

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will get an update from Nuclear Regulatory Commission and Energy Department officials about the status of the stricken Japanese reactors. The hearing will also include officials from the Nuclear Energy Institute and the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Erin Brockovich headlines hearing on disease clusters

The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee will hold a hearing on disease clusters, and witnesses will include famous health advocate Erin Brockovich.

Pew report to explore clean-energy trends

The Pew Charitable Trusts will unveil new data about clean energy investments trends in 2010.

Markey to push for anti-radiation pills

Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) will join several experts to urge the Obama administration to ensure that potassium iodide pills are distributed to people within 20 miles of nuclear plants. The pills help protect the thyroid against radiation in the event of an emergency.


IN CASE YOU MISSED IT...

Here's a quick roundup of Monday's E2 stories:

— A poll commissioned by an environmental group says voters in battleground states want the EPA to regulate greenhouse gas emissions.
— The manufacturing industry targeted vulnerable senators in a series of ads blasting EPA climate rules.
— Cabs in Washington, D.C., are adding a $1 surcharge to make up for high gas prices.
— A Gallup poll says the public is more concerned about clean water than global warming.
— A key conservative group is calling on lawmakers to vote for an amendment to permanently eliminate EPA’s climate authority.

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

Follow us on Twitter: @E2Wire, @AndrewRestuccia.

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