Bush admin backs bill for offshore energy projects
WASHINGTON - The Bush administration last week urged Congress to pass legislation giving the Interior Department authority to permit wind, solar and other alternative energy projects in federal offshore waters.
The administration said the bill would help increase alternative energy supplies, as there is no statutory authority to permit these type of projects in federal waters.
The legislation would \"simplify permitting for energy production in an environmentally sensitive manner,\" said Johnnie Burton, who heads the Interior Department\'s Minerals Management Service, the agency that would oversee the projects.
However, environmentalists fear the bill would allow the department to also easily approve facilities that are related to traditional oil and natural gas production in the Gulf of Mexico, providing a shortcut to avoid jurisdiction by existing federal agencies.
Testifying at a House subcommittee hearing on the matter, Burton said the legislation would provide one agency within the federal government with the tools needed to manage non-traditional energy projects.
Private companies are already working on wind energy projects off Massachusetts and New York\'s Long Island, where higher, more sustained offshore winds can produce up to 40 percent more energy per wind turbine and the electricity would not have far to travel to population centers that need power.
Burton acknowledged that the oil and gas industry is contemplating offshore ancillary projects that could be approved under the bill, such as offshore staging areas and emergency medical facilities to assist injured rig workers.
\"However, to date, they have not proceeded with such plans due, in part, to a lack of clear authority at the federal level,\" she said.
Environmental Defense, which opposes the legislation, said coastal states and local communities must be kept in the decision-making loop.
\"Any of these industrial facilities can have a range of documented adverse impacts on the shoreline, the sea and economically-important biological resources,\" the group said.
The legislation may be included in a broad energy bill that Senate and House negotiators are trying to finalize before Congress adjourns in early October.
REUTERS NEWS SERVICE
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