Groups spar over House bid to ease marine-mammal safeguards Published: Wednesday, August 23, 2017
A green group is criticizing attempts to change marine mammal protections. NOAA
A bill introduced in the House last month is raising concerns for an ocean advocacy group tracking efforts by the Trump administration to alter safeguards for marine mammals.
Prompted by President Trump's executive orders on regulatory reform, NOAA until Monday had been collecting comments on a section of the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) allowing the "take" of marine mammals for certain activities.
Oceana says H.R. 3133, introduced June 29 by Rep. Mike Johnson (R-La.), would unravel critical provisions of the law.
"The NOAA streamlining comment period and the bill are all part of a larger coherent push from the oil and gas industry, including the industry that does offshore surveys for oil and gas exploration, to push past environmental safeguards and expedite their activities," said Lara Levison, senior federal policy director for Oceana. "They clearly have the ear of the administration."
Industry groups such as the International Association of Geophysical Contractors and the American Petroleum Institute support the "Streamlining Environmental Approvals Act," according to Johnson's website.
In comments to the administration, IAGC and API cited findings by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management that seismic operations for offshore oil, gas and renewable energy development have had insignificant impact on marine life. The industry groups pushed for timelier incidental harassment authorizations (IHAs).
"As a direct result of these regulatory impediments, the economic value of American offshore oil and gas resources is substantially reduced and viewed less favorably by private exploration companies when comparing investment opportunities among competing international provinces," IAGC and API wrote. "This present reality is harmful to the U.S. economy, jobs, energy security and government revenues."
Among the provisions of Johnson's legislation is a 120-day approval deadline for harassment authorizations. If an authorization, required by the MMPA, is not granted within that time frame, it would be considered approved based on terms set by the applicant.
Johnson's proposal "does absolutely nothing to affect the integrity of the permit approval process," the congressman said. "It simply puts in place a common sense deadline that would force the appropriate department to issue or deny a permit rather than withholding a decision for political purposes.
"The bill would also streamline the permit approval process by exempting MMPA-covered marine mammals from also undergoing the less rigorous standards used in the Endangered Species Act process after MMPA standards have been met."
IAGC, which helps assess hydrocarbon resources both on- and offshore, has previously called for streamlined authorizations. During her July 18 appearance before the House Natural Resources Committee, IAGC President Nikki Martin said some of the group's members wait as long as two years for IHAs.
"These deadlines are particularly important because IHAs are issued for a period of only one year, and planning for offshore surveys is complicated and very time-sensitive," Martin said in her prepared remarks.
Oceana said the legislation and potential MMPA reform would create too many opportunities for harm.
"Our concern is that these are activities that could have significant negative impacts on marine wildlife," Levison said. "It's important to make sure that these activities aren't allowed if they're going to be impactful, and if they are allowed, there needs to be as many safeguards as possible."
Johnson's bill was referred to the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Water, Power and Oceans on July 19.