New legislation would block unilateral implementation of anti-energy policies

Federal agencies that have unilaterally curtailed energy production in the Gulf of Mexico should obtain congressional approval before any new regulations are implemented, Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) has argued on the Senate floor.

Critics counter that “apologists for big oil” have overstated the moratorium’s economic effects and instead blame irresponsible industry practices for any alleged slowdown.

Over the past few weeks, Vitter has been critical of the Interior Department and Bureau of Ocean Energy Management Regulation and Enforcement (BOEMRE). That includes accusations of false and misleading statements from Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and Michael Bromwich, the BOEMRE director on the correct number of offshore drilling permits, in a letter addressed to both administration officials.

Vitter notes that Both Salazar and Bromwich have an obligation under Section 515 of the Information Quality Act to maintain the integrity of the information they convey in their official capacities.

In a recent floor speech, he also advocated additional legislation to curtail the actions of federal agencies that have exceeded the proper scope of their authority.

To this end, Vitter has introduced the Agency Overreach Moratorium Act. It would require congressional approval for expansion of federal regulations that restrict energy exploration on federal lands and the Outer Continental Shelf that provide domestic natural resources.

“From the Interior, to the EPA and most agencies in between, the Obama administration has completely overreached on regulating businesses; so much that it’s hurt our nation’s job growth,” Sen. Vitter said.

“Specifically, the moratorium was one of the most poorly thought out, mismanaged and ill-conceived policy decisions regarding domestic energy production in the history of this country.”

To drive this point home, it is not necessary to look any further than the high price per gallon of gas or the seven rigs that have left the Gulf and the five that are not working to see how damaging the moratorium has been to Louisiana’s economy, Vitter added.

“Enough is enough, and my bill would prevent those overreaching federal actions that would further destroy jobs on our domestic energy businesses,” he said.

Vitter’s legislation would:

  • Require congressional approval for retroactive withdrawal of any permit on federal lands or the OCS that would have been utilized to produce or harvest domestic natural resources or create one or more jobs.
  • Require congressional approval for any raising of restrictions to resources on federal lands and the OCS.

Vitter’s bill also calls for the Commerce Department to do an economic analysis of any proposed agency action on federal land to see if it has the potential to reduce revenue to the federal treasury or undermine property rights.

In a related matter, Vitter announced on Wednesday that he would release his hold on Dan Ashe, President Obama’s nominee to head the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service under the Department of the Interior. This comes after he received word that the department had issued its fifteenth deepwater exploration well permit and has responded to previous requests for answers on the permitting process.

“I said I would lift it when we got to 15 permits,” Vitter said. “We finally reached that mark today [Wednesday], and I’m lifting my hold. But let me be clear: we have a lot farther to go. This administration has been forced to issue permits but is doing so at an anemic pace—40 percent of pre-BP oil spill levels, and only two new exploration plans have been approved. We must do better by American energy consumers and workers.”

Kevin Mooney is an investigative reporter with the Pelican Institute for Public Policy. He can be reached at Follow him on Twitter.