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Oil and Gas 'Categorical Exclusions' Spark Fight

KUNC file photo

Battle lines are being drawn between energy interests and conservationists over plans to revise oil and gas leasing rules in western states; something that was more than apparent during an oversight hearing on the matter held Friday by Colorado Republican Congressman Doug Lamborn.At issue are "categorical exclusions."  These were added to the Bush Administration’s 2005 Energy Bill and they allowed environmental reviews to be waived at well sites where drilling had occurred within five years. 

The Obama Administration overturned this provision last year.  But last month in Wyoming, a federal judge ruled in favor of the Colorado-based Western Energy Alliance issuing an injunction against the government.  The group’s Kathleen Sgamma told the a subcommittee of the House Committee on Natural Resources that categorical exclusions eliminate unnecessary red tape.

There are cases where it can take years, and time is money," Sgamma said.   "You might not be able to go and create jobs if you have to lay down the rig because you can’t get a permit."

But conservationists say these waivers have allowed some companies to abuse and violate federal environmental law. 

"When drilling is proposed in important fish and wildlife habitat on our public lands, spending a little time up front to consider the impacts and identify ways to minimize them is the responsible way to conduct business," said National Wildlife Federation policy advisor Kate Zimmerman in a prepared statement.

The Obama Administration is now launching a new rule-making on the matter.

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