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WASHINGTON, D.C. â€“ After months of negotiations, Senator Lisa Murkowski yesterday announced a deal that would return authority over air emissions from offshore activity in the Arctic to the Interior Department via the 2012 Interior Appropriations Bill. Murkowski is the ranking Republican on the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee for Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies, giving her authorizing and appropriating power over the Interior Department.
“This language is one of the most important steps Congress can take to ensure that responsible development is allowed to go forward in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas,” Murkowski said. “Transferring air quality authority from the EPA to Interior could place Alaska’s Arctic leases on a level playing field with the Gulf of Mexico and provide a level of predictability – without compromising environmental protections –for those companies willing to invest in the production of America’s energy.”
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) currently has jurisdiction to issue air quality permits on Alaska’s outer continental shelf. However, in the Gulf of Mexico the Interior Department administers air quality compliance. The language written by Murkowski provides regulatory parity for the Beaufort and Chukchi seas with the western and central Gulf of Mexico.
Murkowski has been working for months to resolve systemic problems with the EPA’s permitting process for offshore oil and natural gas exploration. Murkowski decided to attempt the transference of authority for air quality to Interior after watching Shell — which has already invested nearly $4 billion in preparing to explore the Arctic shelf off the coast of Alaska — wait more than five years in a still-unsuccessful bid to obtain valid operating permits from the EPA. By contrast, Interior has, on average, processed permits within a matter of months.
Murkowski said the transfer fix would provide the simplest and most straightforward of the solutions she considered, and would not compromise environmental safeguards since the Interior Department has more than 40 years of experience handling compliance issues.
The language was anticipated to be included in an omnibus package this week. In an unexpected development, the appropriations bills were presented as a stand-alone House bill early this morning – meaning that there are still obstacles in play before final passage.
“While we are pleased the language is in the Interior appropriations bill, we know this is just one step forward in the process for responsible development and energy security for Alaska and the nation,” Murkowski said.
source: Office of Senator Murkowski
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