Responsible Natural Resources Policy Makes U.S. More SECURE

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While many eyes are on tax reform, the DOE-FERC Section 403 conversation, and Tuesday’s off-year election results, a House committee is quietly and persistently advancing legislation that can help assure diverse and reliable energy supplies and shore up the U.S. economy.

Natural Resources Committee’s SECURE American Energy Act

On November 7, the House Natural Resources Committee marked up several key pieces of legislation, including the SECURE American Energy Act (H.R. 4239), aimed at “Strengthening the Economy with Critical Untapped Resources to Expand American Energy.”

Without comprehensive energy legislation on the horizon, and with many key federal agency teams still forming, bills like the SECURE American Energy Act become even more important for advancing common-sense ideas.

The bill tackles an extraordinary set of long overdue tasks, reforming “existing regulatory frameworks for energy development on America’s Outer Continental Shelf and the vast onshore acreage under federal ownership,” according to a Committee summary.

The SECURE Act has developed over time and with opportunity for stakeholder input. It was introduced with bipartisan support and strong majority champions in House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA) and House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Rob Bishop (R-UT).

Offshore Provisions

This summer, PACE supported a reinvigorated planning process for offshore resources. The SECURE Act’s offshore title (also known as the ASTRO Act) could help achieve those goals and much more.

The Committee record notes that the “Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) estimates that 89.9 billion barrels of oil and 327.5 trillion cubic feet of gas are contained, but undiscovered, on the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS). However, 94 percent of the OCS is excluded from oil and gas leasing.” Amazing but true – it’s 94 percent because the Atlantic, Pacific and nearly all the Alaskan offshore areas are off-limits.

Accessing only 6 percent of our potential OCS resources hits consumers pocketbooks twice or more – at the point of sale for many energy sources, and when oil and gas tax revenues aren’t flowing into state and federal coffers.

The ASTRO Act improves the historic partnership between states and the federal government, increasing the revenue share for specific coastal states. It also continues the push for needed regulatory certainty by limiting Presidential authority to take away OCS lands’ leasing eligibility, as occurred under the previous Administration.

While opponents harshly criticized the bill as an oil and gas wish list, the ACTRO Act provisions seeking to streamline OCS permitting and set deadlines for agency decisions can enhance opportunities for significant offshore wind projects.

Onshore Provisions

Although the onshore title lacks a memorable acronym, it also contains good news for energy development and security. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) within the Department of Interior oversees oil, gas and coal leases on about 700 million acres of federal lands, but in the previous Administration, active leases had dropped to a 30-year low. Considering the many regulatory hurdles, such as multiple environmental reviews and wait-times of over 200 days for permits, it’s surprising even those 27 million acres are producing much domestic energy.

The onshore title reinvigorates the states’ role in deciding how BLM lands within their borders can be developed, by allowing qualifying states to assume responsibility for permitting decisions and deferring to states’ regulatory oversight of hydraulic fracturing.

Next Steps

The House may vote on the SECURE American Energy Act next week. The Senate doesn’t yet have an official companion, but in the last weeks of the legislative year, the Senate should do its part to advance energy dominance and consumers’ interests by considering this important legislation.