House GOP: Offshore permitting still broken despite Shell’s go-ahead

Republicans are touting legislation that would speed up another aspect of Arctic drilling projects: Environmental Protection Agency air pollution permits.

Shell faced numerous setbacks before winning EPA permits for emissions from its drilling ship.

The House, with 23 Democrats joining Republicans, last year passed Gardner’s bill that would set new deadlines for EPA action on permit applications, limit challenges, and ease air pollution standards for offshore projects.

But it has not come up in the Senate.

“The need for legislative action is just as urgent today as valuable resources off the coast of Alaska and the Outer Continental Shelf remain off limits,” Gardner said.

Shell has asked EPA to relax air pollution permits for its Noble Discoverer drillship.

EPA on Friday said it plans to issue an order that will allow Shell to proceed with the drilling project in the Chukchi even while the request to alter the permits remains under review.

“The Order sets interim air pollution emissions limits for the company’s activities, and ensures that Shell’s operations will meet congressionally mandated air quality standards under the Clean Air Act until the agency completes a full review of Shell’s application to revise the permit,” EPA spokesman David Bloomgren said.

EPA’s decision to allow Shell to proceed drew a quick rebuke from environmentalists, who oppose drilling in the Arctic.

“Today’s planned announcement that the Environmental Protection Agency has given Shell Oil an exemption to pollute in America’s Arctic Ocean is yet another sign from the Obama administration that they are putting the whims of a corporate giant over the future of one of our nation’s most valued natural treasures,” said Cindy Shogan, executive director of the Alaska Wilderness League.

But EPA said the order does not mean extra pollution.

“EPA expects the Discoverer's overall emissions for this drilling season to be lower under the compliance order than the original permit allowed. The Compliance Order expires in one year and does not waive any of Shell’s permit requirements or any air quality standards,” Bloomgren said.