This was a vote on an amendment by Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-CA) that would have allowed states to appeal decisions approving or denying oil drilling permits in the nearest court of appeals. This amendment was offered to legislation that would loosen regulations on air pollution caused by oil and gas drilling. In addition, the underlying oil drilling bill would eliminate the Environmental Appeals Board’s authority to review applications for oil drilling leases.
Specifically, the underlying bill required appeals of oil drilling permit decisions to be decided by the D.C. Circuit Court. Eshoo’s amendment would have allowed states to appeal decisions approving or denying oil drilling permits in the nearest court of appeals.
Eshoo urged support for her amendment: “Many of my colleagues on the other side of the aisle like to criticize centralized government; bash Washington, D.C.; Washington, D.C. lawyers. They extol the virtues of local control. They cite the 10th Amendment. But this legislation centralizes control in Washington, D.C. In fact, it's a boon for Washington, D.C. lawyers. This provision makes it far more difficult for regular folks to appeal a decision that can directly affect them. It took one of our Energy and Commerce Committee witnesses from the North Slope of Alaska 16 hours to travel to Washington, D.C., at a cost of at least $1,000 for that ticket. This provision forces state and local authorities to fly to Washington, D.C. to defend a challenged permit decision. That's a huge burden in terms of money, and particularly so in these tough economic times. The premise of this bill is that the oil industry needs faster permit decisions. Moving review from one Federal circuit court to another does not expedite permit decisions, and the committee that I'm a part of received no testimony identifying any actual problems with review in the relevant circuit courts. I encourage members to support this amendment, which would preserve local control, which would preserve community participation and really speaks to some fiscal common sense.”
Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-KY) opposed Eshoo’s amendment: “First of all, under her [Eshoo’s] proposal, you would appeal the decision of the EPA at the local district court, wherever the project might be, let's say California. So you go through that appeals process through the U.S. District Court, and then if you don't like that decision, then you have to go to the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Well, today, if our [underlying oil drilling] bill did not pass, anyone could appeal a decision of the Environmental Protection Agency to the Environmental Appeals Board, which is located in Washington, D.C. So, today, any appeals to that board have to come to Washington, D.C., and it really is a judicial hearing. There are lawyers. There are judges. There is evidence. And so, today, that's the case….We're simply saying…once the decision is made by the EPA, any party can go to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. They don't even have to go through that extra layer at the federal court but go right to the district court of appeals here in Washington, D.C. So this legislation does not in any way change the venue. As I said, if we did nothing, as it is today, if they appeal to the Environmental Appeals Board, they come to Washington, D.C., to have the hearing. So I have been sympathetic to her desire to save people money, not require them to come all the way to Washington, but that's the way the law is today.”
[While the EAB had always been located in Washington, D.C., the underlying bill would have required all court cases relating to efforts to appeal EAB decisions to take place in Washington D.C.]
The House rejected this amendment by a vote of 183-240. Voting “yea” were 177 Democrats and 6 Republicans. 229 Republicans and 11 Democrats voted “nay.” As a result, the House rejected an amendment that would have allowed states to appeal decisions approving or denying oil drilling permits in the nearest court of appeals, rather than the D.C. Circuit Court.