Jewell defends White House energy policy on Capitol Hill

New Interior Secretary Sally Jewell went to Capitol Hill on July 17 to say that President Obama’s “all of the above” energy strategy is alive and well and in the process of being implemented throughout the Interior Dept.

“The use of rapidly advancing technologies, implementation of smart policies, and a commitment to the President’s ‘all of the above’ energy strategy will allow us to continue with the safe and environmentally responsible expansion and diversification of our nation’s energy production, further cutting our reliance on foreign oil, and protecting our land and water at the same time,” said Jewell in her prepared testimony for the House Committee on Natural Resources.

Highlights of the energy parts of Jewell’s testimony, by category, are:

Onshore Energy Development:

Interior’s Bureau of Land Management held 31 oil and gas sales last year and is scheduled to hold more than 30 this year. Oil production from federal onshore lands is at its highest level in over a decade.

The Obama Administration is making more coal available as well, with the number of producing acres rising 4% from FY 2009 to FY 2012. The amount of coal the agency leased last fiscal year is the highest since FY 2003. (That is an apparent reference to mostly major leases in the Powder River Basin of Wyoming.) And through the Office of Surface Mining, Interior is working to ensure that communities impacted by coal mining and the environment are protected during mining. “We are also pursuing the reclamation of priority abandoned mine sites with a goal of reducing the number of remaining dangerous abandoned mine sites nationwide,” Jewell added.

The Department has also improved onshore oil and gas permit processing. Former Secretary Ken Salazar instituted reforms to the BLM’s oil and gas program, including transitioning to an electronic system that will automate and streamline the application process and significantly reduce the time for approval of new projects.

In mid May, the Department published a revised proposed rule on hydraulic fracturing on public and Indian lands. “I have said before that it is important that the public have full confidence that the right safety and environmental protections are in place,” Jewell added. “This rule proposes common sense updates to 30-year old regulations that will increase safety in oil and gas production on public lands. Under the proposal, BLM will work with states and tribes to increase flexibility and reduce regulatory duplication. The revised version includes a variance process that will allow BLM in appropriate circumstances to defer to states and tribes that have standards in place that meet or exceed those proposed in the rule. We have also extended the public comment period to August 23, 2013, to ensure that we have input from the public and from key stakeholders.

The Department is also committed to assisting Indian tribes in expanding renewable, reliable, and secure energy supplies on Indian lands and safe and responsible oil and gas development.

Renewable Energy Development:

Interior has a critical role to play in fulfilling the President’s goal to double renewable electricity generation again by the year 2020 by permitting enough renewables projects on public lands to power more than 6 million homes.

In 2009, there were no commercial solar energy projects on or under development on the public lands. From that time, the Department authorized 42 renewable energy projects on or through the public lands which, if constructed, will have the potential to produce enough electricity to power more than 4.2 million homes. The Department also plays a key role in efforts to strengthen the nation’s electric transmission grid, approving permits enabling several hundred miles of transmission lines in seven states across federal lands in 2012.

“BLM has focused on an accelerated, but environmentally responsible, permitting process for the development of renewable energy on public lands that ensures the protection of signature landscapes, wildlife habitats, and cultural resources,” Jewell wrote. “Since 2009, BLM has authorized more than 12,000 megawatts of energy on public lands and waters, established a road map for responsible solar development in the West by designating energy zones, and flipped the switch on the first solar energy project to deliver power to the grid. BLM also released the Final Environmental Impact Statement for a proposed 750 megawatt facility in Riverside County that would be one of the largest solar energy projects on public lands in the California desert.”

BLM is also moving forward on wind energy, with a proposed complex in Wyoming that would generate up to 3,000 MW, making it the largest wind farm in the U.S. and one of the largest in the world. BLM also expects to propose rules that would establish a competitive process for issuing rights-of-way leases for solar and wind energy development on public lands.

Progress has been made to advance offshore wind energy. The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) issued the second non-competitive commercial wind lease off the coast of Delaware in 2012. Jewell recently announced the first ever competitive lease sale, to be held in July, for a wind energy area offshore Rhode Island and Massachusetts, and BOEM will hold another competitive lease sale offshore Virginia this year. These sales involve nearly 278,000 acres proposed for development of wind generation to produce electricity to power as many as 1.9 million homes. “We expect additional competitive lease sales to follow for wind energy areas offshore Maryland, New Jersey, and Massachusetts, and we continue to make progress on potential projects in areas offshore New York, North Carolina, and Maine,” Jewell added.

BOEM has established renewable energy task forces with a total of 12 coastal states, including recent task forces in Hawaii and South Carolina, and is overseeing progress in the planning of a potential Mid-Atlantic wind energy transmission line, which would enable up to 6,000 MW of wind turbine capacity to be delivered to the electric grid along the East Coast.

And the Bureau of Reclamation’s 58 hydroelectric plants generate more than 40 billion kilowatt hours of electricity to meet the needs of over 3.5 million households and generate over $1bn in gross revenues for the federal government.

Committee chair says Administration choking energy in red tape

Committee Chairman Doc Hastings, R-Wash., in his opening statement, wasn’t too charitable about energy development under the Obama Administration. He said the Administration has a “pattern” of imposing new regulations and policies that cost American jobs.

“In no area is this more painfully evident than with the Department’s energy policies,” Hastings said. “Under the Obama Administration, gas prices are up and federal energy production is down. The Department has implemented one of the most restrictive offshore drilling plans that keeps 85 percent of areas off-limits, has leased the lowest number onshore acres for energy production, and canceled numerous lease sales. Now the Department is pursuing unnecessary and duplicative regulations on hydraulic fracturing on federal and tribal lands – adding new layers of red-tape on this job-creating practice that has been successfully regulated by the states for decades.”

Hastings added: “The Obama Administration is also aggressively pursuing a war on coal, which is really a war on jobs, energy prices and communities. One of the most egregious examples of this is the Department’s continual efforts to rewrite the Stream Buffer Zone Rule, even though this flawed and redundant rulemaking process has already cost millions of taxpayer dollars and will only cause further economic harm and job loss.”

He is referring to a rule that the Administration said it would rewrite, that was instituted in the last days of the George W. Bush Administration, that allows coal companies significant leeway to place rock and soil from mine sites within 100-foot buffer zones around streams. A subcommittee of this committee plans to hold a July 23 hearing on the status of the buffer zone rule.

About Barry Cassell 20414 Articles
Barry Cassell is Chief Analyst for GenerationHub covering coal and emission controls issues, projects and policy. He has covered the coal and power generation industry for more than 24 years, beginning in November 2011 at GenerationHub and prior to that as editor of SNL Energy’s Coal Report. He was formerly with Coal Outlook for 15 years as the publication’s editor and contributing writer, and prior to that he was editor of Coal & Synfuels Technology and associate editor of The Energy Report. He has a bachelor’s degree from Central Michigan University.