Time to apply a strong hand with the EPA

Posted: Sunday, February 13, 2011

If ever a federal agency was a candidate for demonetization, it's probably the Environmental Protection Agency.

Shell Alaska announced last week that it has dropped plans to drill in the Beaufort Sea this year because it can't get a permit renewal from the EPA. Reaction was not surprising, as leaders from our congressional delegation to the governor's office blasted the EPA for the loss of another exploration season and the loss of an estimated 800 jobs. Not to mention the $3 billion in investment by the oil company seemingly for naught.

By all accounts, the EPA does indeed seem mired in unfathomable bureaucracy. Arguments of jobs or investments gained or lost seem to fall on deaf ears, while many times even the hint of protest from environmental groups can bring progress to a screeching halt. There seems to be no give and take, no attempt to balance environmental concerns with necessary development.

But then again, what are we to expect?

A short history lesson. In late 1969 Congress passed the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), declaring Congressional intent to "create and maintain conditions under which man and nature can exist in productive harmony," and to "assure for all Americans safe, healthful, productive, esthetically and culturally pleasing surroundings."

Shortly thereafter, on New Year's Day 1970, President Richard Nixon signed the act, saying, "that the 1970s absolutely must be the years when America pays its debt to the past by reclaiming the purity of its air, its waters and our living environment."

That's not exactly a mandate for balancing environment and development, now is it?

Here's the bottom line. We want Shell to explore for more oil. We want the jobs and revenues more development brings.

We need Shell.

Curiously, on the same day that Shell Alaska vice president Pete Slaiby was declaring exploration dead in our waters for this summer, Royal Dutch Shell PLC reported its fourth quarter profit more than tripled from a year earlier because of higher oil prices increased production elsewhere in the world. When asked by The Associated Press last week about the loss of this season's Beaufort permit, Chief Financial Officer Simon Henry said, "We're missing one permit (in Alaska) but that actually means we've got the other 34 permits."

Indeed, we need Shell more than it needs us.

We will not call here for a change in the EPA. In our view, that's silly. The EPA has its moments where we like it. Witness praise from our U.S. senators this week with the agency's announcement that it would delve into the Pebble mine issue.

And we wouldn't call for change or abolishment of the EPA because we don't want to resemble a Third World nation that allows resource extractors to devastate its lands.

What's needed here is a higher authority to impose some practical balance. The EPA cares not a whit about Shell's profits or Alaska's prosperity -- or lack of. Those are values that can only be appreciated by folks who have the power to rein in the EPA.

That strong hand must come from Congress and the Obama Administration. Those are the entities -- not the EPA -- that should be making final judgments that balance clean air and water with jobs and prosperity.

The EPA needs guidance and, especially now, a strong hand on its reins. That can only come from Washington. And it needs to happen now.

In short: The Obama Administration and Congress need to step in and rein in the EPA.

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