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WASHINGTON – Senator Mike Lee offered an amendment that would make federal permitting for oil and gas development more efficient and force the Bureau of Land Management to follow current law requiring all applications to be approved or deniedyapplications within 30 days.  Lee said there is no justifiable reason for delays amounting to hundreds of days and that his bill, and the greater certainty it would bring, would improve economic and national security.
 
“This amendment would solve a problem that has severely hamstrung oil and gas development on federal lands, a problem that's particularly severe in the western United States, and that involves excessive delays in the issuing of permits by the United States Bureau of Land Management,” Lee said of his amendment to the Keystone XL Pipeline Act.  “The result of all this red tape is a serious backlog of about 3,500 permits.”
 
“There are currently 113 million acres of federal lands open and accessible for oil and gas development. Much of this federal land contains abundant domestic energy resources,” Lee said on the Senate floor. “In Utah alone, we have hundreds of acres available for drilling, acres that are currently being held up by bureaucratic delays. My amendment would ensure that Utah and other states in the west that are dominated by federal land can access the energy, the vast wealth that lies within their borders and provide the United States with a reliable source of domestic energy production.”
 
“It makes sense economically and…from a national security standpoint, as well,” He added. “But in order for any of this to work, we have to have procedures in place to make sure that those people who choose to go out and develop federal land – that's already been identified as suitable for oil and gas production within federal lands – that they have some modicum of due process, that they have some ability to predict what the procedural outcome is going to be, what set of procedures they'll have to follow, and what kind of time line they will be facing as they approach this often lengthy process.”
 
Despite gaining the support of a bipartisan majority in the Senate, rules required the amendment to receive 60 votes in order to be added to the bill.  The amendment failed 51 – 47.
 
The full transcript of Sen. Lee’s statement on the Senate floor is below:
 
Mr. President, I stand today to encourage my colleagues to support my amendment, amendment number 71. This amendment would solve a problem that has severely hamstrung oil and gas development on federal lands, a problem that's particularly severe in the western United States, and that involves excessive delays in the issuing of permits by the United States Bureau of Land Management.
 
Federal law requires the BLM To approve or deny these permits within 30 days.
They've got 30 days. They can go one way or the other. But according to a report issued last year by the inspector general within the U. S. Department of Interior, BLM took an average of 228 days to approve each drilling permit in 2012. 228 days. That's 7 1/2 months. That's a lot longer than the 30 days contemplated under federal law. In Moab and in Salt Lake City, Utah, the average processing delay is around 220 days. In Price, Utah, the average processing delay is just under 250 days.
 
It doesn't have to take this long. In fact, to explain why, let's look at how states handle it. State governments, by comparison, process these same permits in 80 days or less. Approval of these permits is further complicated by endless environmental reviews, reviews that sometimes can take years upon years. The result of all this red tape is a serious backlog of about 3,500 permits.
 
My amendment would address this problem in a few ways. First, it would require BLM to issue a permit within 60 days of receiving an application. If the permit is denied, the BLM would be required to specify the reasons for its decision to deny the permit and to allow the applicant thereafter to address any issues.
 
The amendment would also address delays stemming from reviews under the Endangered Species Act and under the National Environmental Policy Act. Reviews under these statutes are required to be completed within 180 days to provide companies with certainty and to hold BLM accountable. If either of these deadlines is not met, the application would be deemed approved.
 
Significantly, there are currently 113 million acres of federal lands open and accessible for oil and gas development. Much of this federal land contains abundant domestic energy resources. In Utah alone, we have hundreds of acres available for drilling, acres that are currently being held up by bureaucratic delays. My amendment would ensure that Utah and other states in the west that are dominated by federal land can access the energy, the vast wealth that lies within their borders and provide the United States with a reliable source of domestic energy production.
 
Our energy security and our national security, more broadly, depends ultimately on our ability to produce energy. I understand that fuel prices right now are down relative to what they have been. We can't get too secure in this. We can't assume that it's always going to be this case. And certainly when the federal government insists on opening this much land, roughly one-third of the land in the United States as a whole, roughly two-thirds of the land in my state of Utah, if we're going to own this much land within the federal government, we really should be using the resources within it. We need to make sure that we're using that land to shore up our energy independence.
 
The less energy independent we become in this country, the more dependent we become on other countries that are producing energy, that are using their natural resources, countries like Saudi Arabia and Venezuela and other countries where there are a lot of people growing wealthy off of our petro dollars and where many of those same people are using our own petro dollars to fund acts of terrorism against us.  Countries that are often hostile to our interests.
 
We need to do this because it makes sense economically and we need to do this because it makes sense from a national security standpoint as well. But in order for any of this to work, Mr. President, we have to have procedures in place to make sure that those people who choose to go out and want to develop land, want to develop federal land that's already been identified as suitable for oil and gas production within federal lands, that they have some modicum of due process, that they have some ability to predict what the procedural outcome is going to be, what set of procedures they'll have to follow and what kind of time line they will be facing as they approach this often lengthy process.
 
We do need to be careful. We do need to be sensitive and we need to make sure that we are developing our natural resources in a way that respects the environment and doesn't endanger our health or that of our federal lands. But this can be done in a way that doesn't have to result in open-ended and completely unforeseeable delays.
 
For this reason, I strongly encourage my colleagues to support this amendment, amendment number 71, with the understanding that as they do so, they will be shoring up America’s energy independence and with it, America’s national security.