Republicans' renewables bills may increase litigation: Obama officials
Washington (Platts)--23Jun2011/324 pm EDT/1924 GMT
A suite of legislation to streamline environmental reviews for renewable
energy projects being pushed by US House of Representatives Republicans could
lead to increased litigation and additional project delays, members of the
Obama administration warned at a subcommittee hearing Thursday.
The bills would limit environmental reviews of wind, solar, geothermal,
biomass and marine renewable projects required under the National
Environmental Policy Act, and they would impose tight deadlines for public
input and decisions from federal agencies.
Representative Doug Lamborn, a Colorado Republican who chairs the House
Natural Resources Committee's Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources,
pointed to examples of projects that have been slowed by environmental
reviews, such as the Cape Wind project off the coast of Massachusetts.
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"Federal rules, regulations and bureaucratic red tape slow, stall or
sometimes directly destroy critical projects," he said.
While Republican sponsors touted the bills as intended to reduce
lawsuits and speed projects to approval, administration officials and
Democratic committee members said they would have the opposite effect.
The flagship bill, H.R. 2170, from Washington state Republican Doc
Hastings, who chairs the House Natural Resources Committee, would block
federal agencies and the public from being able to propose alternative
project considerations during NEPA analysis. Projects could only be approved
as they were proposed, or denied.
"There may be unintended consequences to H.R. 2170," said Mike Pool,
deputy director of the Department of the Interior's Bureau of Land Management.
"Agencies may be forced to select the no-action alternative if a proposal has
resource conflicts that cannot be addressed through alternatives."
Administration witnesses and Democrats on the subcommittee also said
that environmental groups, local governments or other stakeholders who would
be shut out of the NEPA process would be more likely to go to court to
Two other bills, H.R. 2171 and H.R. 2172, aim to exclude from NEPA review
certain testing procedures for geothermal and wind energy projects on public
Pool and Joel Holtrop, deputy chief of the US Forest Service, both said
that federal agencies already have discretion to issue categorical exclusions
for those types of projects, and often issue such exemptions when those
projects do not threaten sensitive environments or cultural sites.
Removing that discretion by applying across-the-board exclusions "could
lead to unanticipated resource damage in some cases and increased likelihood
of litigation in many more," Holtrop said. "This would ultimately cause
further complications and delays in our process and could also increase
resistance to efforts to promote renewable energy development."
A fourth bill, H.R. 2713, would streamline permitting for meteorological
testing for offshore wind facilities by requiring Interior to establish a
testing permit that included a 30-day decision deadline, and exclude the
testing from NEPA review.
However, Walter Cruickshank, deputy director of Interior's Bureau of
Ocean Energy Management Regulation and Enforcement, told the committee that
the bill may create an extra layer of bureaucracy on top of BOEM's existing
Massachusetts Representative Edward Markey, the ranking Democrat on the
Natural Resources Committee, said the bills would result in more lawsuits and
fewer projects going forward, and he accused the bills' sponsors of adopting a
"Trojan horse" approach to reining in environmental laws under the guise of
supporting renewable energy.
"Once they've hobbled environmental laws for renewable energy," Markey
said. "They may be hoping it will be a lot easier to do the same for the
industry they really care about: the oil and gas industry."
-- Nick Juliano, email@example.com