Alaska Offshore Oil Bill May Boost State Air Pollution, EPA Says

A Republican proposal in the House aimed at speeding up oil production in Alaska may expose the state’s population to significant air pollution, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said in opposing the measure.

A bill, proposed by Representative Cory Gardner of Colorado, would block the EPA from enforcing health-based air standards on any company drilling off Alaska’s coast, Gina McCarthy, EPA assistant administrator, said in testimony for a House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing today.

During the 168-day Arctic drilling season, “one exploratory outer continental shelf source could emit approximately as much on a daily basis as a large state-of-the art refinery,” she said. Exempting companies “could result in significant human exposure to air pollution from Outer Continental Shelf sources, including nitrogen dioxide, particles, sulfur dioxide, and pollution that causes ozone.”

Royal Dutch Shell Plc canceled its plan to drill an exploration well in the Beaufort Sea this year because the Hague-based company didn’t obtain an air permit in time. Shell, blocked since 2007 from developing its Alaska leases, filed a drilling plan this month seeking U.S. approval for as many as four Beaufort wells -- two in 2012 and two in 2013.

The Gardner bill also would make it more difficult for local groups such as fishermen to appeal air permits issued by the EPA. The legislation would require them to hire a lawyer in Washington, or fly their local attorney to the capital. Now they can express their concerns via video conference, she said.

The EPA has nine air permits applications pending, McCarthy said in her testimony.

“This bill will create tens of thousands of jobs, increase energy security, and lessen our dependence on foreign oil,” Gardner said on April 13, when he offered a draft for discussion. “It will add billions of dollars in salary to Alaska and other states over the next several decades, bringing good paying jobs to our country.”

-- Editors: Steve Geimann, Larry Liebert

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