Top Republican pledges tough oversight of new drilling rules

As the Obama administration unveils new rules governing natural gas drilling, offshore energy development and other issues, Congress will be closely watching, a top House Republican vowed on Wednesday.

Tough scrutiny “is more important than ever,” said Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., at the opening meeting of his Natural Resources Committee.

“There are a number of impending new regulations and policies set to be announced this year that could severely impact jobs and economic growth,” Hastings said.

Anticipating “a more aggressive Obama administration in the second term,” Hastings said his panel’s role will be to keep pace and ensure any new “regulations and actions are thoroughly scrutinized and challenged if necessary.”

The Natural Resources Committee has oversight over mineral extraction on federal lands, oil drilling in federal waters, the Trans-Alaska pipeline system, and other issues. Under Hastings’ watch, the panel has overseen the Obama administration’s handling of offshore drilling in the wake of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster.

The Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management is rewriting a draft proposal to force disclosure of chemicals used at oil and gas wells on public lands. The Interior Department’s Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, meanwhile, is developing regulations governing emergency equipment used at offshore wells. And the Environmental Protection Agency is under pressure to expand emission rules for existing power plants to new facilities.

One area the committee is expected to tackle is how the administration is conducting environmental reviews required under federal law before decisions on the use of public lands. Under committee rules adopted Wednesday, the Subcommittee on Public Land and Environmental Regulation will have oversight over issues related to the National Environmental Policy Act.

Beyond oversight, Hastings wants the committee to push a broad energy agenda, which he said would “help create jobs and grow our economy,” while “reducing burdensome government regulations and red tape.”

A flurry of GOP energy bills passed the House in the past two years but went nowhere in the Senate.

The heads of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee recently met with the top Democrat and Republican on the House Energy and Commerce Committee in a bid to break that logjam.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, the top Republican on the Senate’s energy panel, said the two chambers haven’t coordinated much in recent years, but the hope is that a new dialogue could allow them to find common ground.

“We really want to try and get something done,” Murkowski said. “But all you have to do is look at the landscape around here and realize we can make something happen here in the Senate and it dies a certain death in the House or vice versa.”

“Maybe if there’s more coordination, we can identify (areas) where we can make something happen,” Murkowski added.

So far, the group of lawmakers — Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., and Murkowski — haven’t agreed on a single agenda.

But they are planning to meet periodically, possibly over breakfast, to share ideas and keep talking, Murkowski said.