Senate Republicans challenge Obama on energy policy

01 May 2009 20:49  [Source: ICIS news]

WASHINGTON (ICIS news)--US Senate Republicans charged on Friday that President Barack Obama’s administration has moved to sharply curtail energy development despite his campaign support for domestic energy production.

Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, the ranking Republican on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, placed a hold on confirmation hearings for attorney David Hayes, picked by Obama to be a deputy secretary in the Interior Department.

Murkowski was joined by Republican Senator Robert Bennett of Utah in holding up Hayes’s confirmation.

Murkowski said she would block further consideration of Hayes’s appointment until the Interior Department responds to her complaint that it has unilaterally waived a rule established by the Bush administration.

That rule, part of a decision by the Bush Interior Department in May 2008 listing the polar bear as a threatened species due to climate change, essentially said that only those energy development or other projects that might directly endanger the bear’s Arctic habitat would have to get prior approval from the US Fish and Wildlife Service.

According to Murkowski, the Obama Interior Department earlier this week overturned that Bush rule without due process and public consideration required by law.

The department’s action, said Murkowski, “combined with the finding that the polar bear is threatened by climate change, could be used by environmental activists to challenge almost any development anywhere in the country on grounds that any increase in greenhouse gas emissions threatens the Arctic habitat of the polar bear”.

“Every power plant permit anywhere that might increase carbon emissions could face a lawsuit,” Murkowski said.

“Jeopardy could extend past fossil fuel projects to include any agricultural practice, any increase in livestock numbers, new road construction, literally any project or activity that might increase greenhouse gas emissions,” she added.

“President Obama has spoken frequently about the importance of producing more domestic oil and gas while the nation transitions to cleaner energy sources,” Murkowski said, “but so far his actions have not matched his rhetoric.”

She said other actions by the administration also are contrary to Obama’s voiced support for domestic energy production, including the Interior Department’s recent cancellation of oil and gas leases in Utah, a six-month delay in offshore energy development plans and delays imposed on oil shale research and leasing.

US chemical makers and a broad array of other manufacturers have been pressing federal officials for years to re-open US outer continental shelf (OCS) regions to energy development. The US petrochemicals sector is heavily dependent on natural gas as a feedstock.

Murkowski said she will lodge a formal complaint with the Interior Department demanding an explanation of why the rule change was made without public comment and stakeholder input as required by law.

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By: Joe Kamalick
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