WASHINGTON — House Republicans on Wednesday criticized the Obama administration’s $11.4 billion budget proposal for the Interior Department, arguing that the department’s ideas for ensuring public health and environmental protection would put unnecessary burdens on the energy industry.
The budget, which represents a 1 percent increase in funding for the department, “contains more tax and spend policies that are detrimental to job creation and economic growth,” said Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., chairman of the Natural Resources Committee, during a hearing.
The department’s plan to impose steeper fees on fossil fuel companies would cost jobs, he said. The budget proposes a hike in an existing inspection fee on offshore oil and gas operations and proposes a new inspection fee for drilling on federal land.
The department estimates the new fees would generate $51 million, which would fund more inspections to ensure that energy companies were complying with safety and environmental protection standards, according to the budget proposal.
Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., defended the budget. “The Obama administration has been fostering both traditional oil and gas development while moving us forward to a clean energy future,” he said. “In contrast to the ‘all of the above’ energy plan laid out by Secretary (Ken) Salazar and the Obama administration, the majority’s plan is nothing more than ‘oil above all.’”
House Republicans also took issue with the budget’s request for $13 million to fund more research into the effects of natural gas drilling on water quality, ecosystems and earthquakes. They said such research is unnecessary because the technology behind natural gas drilling is safe.
“Hydraulic fracturing is not a new phenomenon,” said Rep. Jeff Duncan, R-S.C., alluding to a controversial method of extracting natural gas. “It’s been around for almost 100 years.”
Echoing President Barack Obama’s recent State of the Union address, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar said the administration is committed to natural gas development as long as it’s safe, but added that the technology that led to a natural gas boom in the last decade is new and has not been studied thoroughly.
“We want to make sure we address the concerns of the American public,” he said.
Republican committee members also reprimanded the Interior Department for upcoming natural gas drilling regulations that would require companies to disclose what chemicals they inject into the ground during drilling, observe more safety standards to prevent chemical leaks and dispose chemical byproducts of drilling more responsibly.
Rep. John Fleming, R-La., said such regulations would hurt natural gas companies.
“A lot of these regulations put handcuffs on those who are on the front lines doing this,” he said, adding that such regulations inhibit companies’ day-to-day decision making and impede job growth.
The department will finalize the new natural gas drilling regulations in a few weeks, Salazar said.