The House Natural Resources Committee advanced one of four bills up for consideration today that would streamline the permitting process during a full committee markup session on Capitol Hill.

The Committee voted along party lines with a tally of 22-18 in favor of the “Common Sense Permitting Act,” which was put forward by Rep. Steve Pearce (R-N.M.).  The proposed bill would “clarif[y] the categorical exclusions authorized by the Energy Policy Act of 2005 and authoriz[e] additional categorical exclusions to streamline the oil and gas permitting process.”

Additional categorical exclusions would allow for more leeway in bypassing environmental assessments or environmental impacts statements if the action is not perceived to “have a significant effect on the human environment.”

“The permitting process is really bogged down.  The BLM [Bureau of Land Management] has asked and worked with us on this bill in order to simplify to allow them to work through the tremendous backlog in APDs [Application for Permit to Drills],” Pearce said while introducing his bill.

Democratic Representatives Nanette Barragán (Calif.), Ruben Gallego (Ariz.) and Nydia Velázquez (N.Y.) offered amendments that would have narrowed the scope of permitted categorical exclusions, but those were voted down with narrow margins by the committee.

The other bill put forward for discussion was the “Streamlining Permitting Efficiency in Energy Development Act,” or the SPEED Act, sponsored by Rep. John Curtis (R-Utah).  The SPEED Act would amend the Mineral Leasing Act to allow for Notifications for Permit to Drill (NPDs) in lieu of APDs for certain oil and gas drilling operations.

According to Curtis, the bill would serve to streamline the permitting process by allowing BLM to “expedite the approval of drilling activities that post little or no environmental harm.”

The Committee adjourned early so members could take part in a House Floor Vote that coincided with the hearing without voting on the SPEED Act.  Two other bills championed by Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) and Rep. Pearce were not addressed during the markup session due to time constraints.

The BLM has grappled for some time over ways to streamline the permitting process, due to mounting delays and a growing number of pending APDs under consideration.  Western officials have taken to Congress to show how shifting responsibility to the local level and speeding up the approval process for oil and gas development will aid their economies.  During a Subcommittee on Energy Mineral Resources Hearing earlier this month, New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez told members that her state loses $2 million in tax revenue every day due to the BLM backlogs.

“The average approval time for BLM permits in New Mexico is 250 days, compared to just 10 days for the New Mexico Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department to approve those same permits. This has created a backlog of more than 800 BLM applications,” Martinez told the Subcommittee.

This sentiment was echoed earlier in the year by Jarred Kubat, Vice President of Land, Legal and Regulatory at Wold Energy Partners during a hearing in January.

“The 415-day delay average our company faces between parcel nomination and offering for sale is too long. This is contrasted with the 45-day period we see at state level,” he said at the time.

Ahead of the hearing, the Independent Petroleum Association of America (IPAA) sent a letter to Committee Chairman Rob Bishop (R-Utah) expressing its support of the bills under consideration that they call “common-sense onshore regulatory reform bills.”

“The suite of bills scheduled to be marked up on June 20 before the full Committee will provide much needed certainty and assurances for our member companies and those who safely operate on public lands. In recent years, it has become difficult for IPAA member companies to remain in business and continue operating on public lands as the federal regulatory process has become exceedingly cumbersome and costly,” the letter said.

“The use of categorical exclusions and authorizing notifications of permits to drill will remove federal bureaucratic barriers and provide increased certainty to IPAA member companies seeking to responsibly operate on public lands,” it continued.