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Begich Presses Obama Official on Agency Rule Coordination

Emphasizes need to streamline to advance development projects

U.S. Sen. Mark Begich today pressed the Obama Administration's head of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs on the need for better coordination among federal agencies when it comes to the rules impacting major development projects in Alaska. At a hearing of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, of which Begich is a member, Cass Sunstein was answering questions on the role of his office in developing and overseeing the implementation of government-wide policies and rule-making in several areas.

Begich asked Mr. Sunstein how much time is spent reviewing regulatory actions of various agencies and the impact they have on development opportunities such as oil and gas exploration in Alaska's Outer Continental Shelf (OCS).

"In almost every case, it seems the EPA comes into the mix and the delay is enormous," Begich said. "What do you do to connect and streamline the system?"

Referring to the recent case of Shell Oil getting close to moving forward on plans to develop in Alaska's Chukchi Sea, where the Environmental Appeals Board of the EPA put up a last minute road block stopping the activity, Begich said the costs can be enormous to industry. He pointed out the inconsistent rules among agencies are a significant disadvantage to Alaska.

"In some cases it's a very expensive process, some in the hundreds of millions of dollars of regulatory requirements," Begich said.

Sunstein told Begich the office does try to promote coordination among agencies and to review the rules underlying permit decisions to make sure they are compatible with economic growth and job creation. He said he was aware of obstacles in Alaska and would continue to work to improve the systems.

Begich also emphasized his concern with the fact that the EPA has jurisdiction over air permits for offshore development in the Arctic while the Interior Department has similar power for development in the Gulf of Mexico. Begich said putting all air permitting under the Interior Department would make the process more fair and consistent.

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