Vitter Doesn’t Share Landrieu’s Optimism On Offshore Drilling

Last week, U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA) lifted her two-month hold on the White House’s nomination of Office of Management and Budget director Jake Lew due to what she said were indications of a commitment by the Obama administration to return offshore oil drilling to normal levels.

Louisiana’s other Senator, Republican David Vitter, is less convinced.

Vitter sent a letter Sunday to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar declaring that the drilling permit logjam continues. Vitter said he doesn’t expect an end to the “Permitorium” when the Obama Administration gets its act together on several “big-picture issues.”

The letter followed a Saturday phone conversation between Vitter and Salazar in which the unresolved regulatory issues were front and center as topics of conversation. “I look forward to meeting with the secretary today to focus again on these issues. We don’t need vague happy talk; we need concrete answers,” Vitter said.

“The secretary’s positive comments and the handful of new shallow water permits are nice. But they don’t solve the problem; they don’t break the logjam,” Vitter said. “The Obama Administration needs to resolve at least five big picture issues to put people back to work in a major way.”

Vitter’s letter to Salazar reads as follows:

November 21, 2010

The Honorable Ken Salazar
Secretary of the Interior
1849 C St., NW
Washington, DC 20240

VIA ELECTRONIC MAIL AND FACSIMILE
IMMEDIATE ATTENTION REQUESTED

Dear Mr. Secretary:

Thank you for our telephone conversation yesterday about permitting new oil and gas drilling. I welcome your recent positive comments, the handful of new shallow water permits being issued, and your trip to Louisiana Monday. But I don’t think any of this will end the drilling permit logjam.

To end the logjam, the Administration must address, directly and concretely, the big picture issues which have created mass uncertainty and slowed the process to a virtual standstill.

With that in mind, I would ask that you address the following issues directly and concretely during your visit Monday:

1. ADEQUATE BOEMRE STAFFING. Both you and Director Bromwich have recently stated that BOEMRE does not have adequate staff to ramp up permitting. What are you doing immediately to change this? And what additional budget authority are you requesting to expand on and make permanent those changes?

2. NEPA CATEGORICAL EXCLUSIONS. What is the exact status of your review of the use of NEPA Categorical Exclusions? If use of Categorical Exclusions is cut back, how will you avoid major delays in permitting? And if Interior uses Environmental Assessments (EAs) for exploration plans, how will Interior justify a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) conclusion?

3. NTL-06. It is clear that the current version of NTL-06 is unworkable and is frustrating the permitting process. How and when will this change?

4. REGULATORY CERTAINTY. When will the entire universe of new rules, notices, etc. be defined? Director Bromwich has indicated that there is no end in sight in this regard, which defeats any hope of regulatory certainty.

5. DEEPWATER. Any hint of recent progress seems to be focused on shallow water. When will we see a significant number of new permits issued for deepwater exploration and drilling?

I look forward to your direct and concrete responses to these issues on Monday.

Sincerely,

David Vitter
United States Senator



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