The House Energy and Mineral Resources Committee recently held a hearing on “Discussion Draft Regulation to Overhaul Federal Lands Energy Policy.”
The hearing focused on reforms needed to break through years of regulatory gridlock that have prevented the most efficient use of federal lands for energy development, onshore and offshore.
The hearing followed legislation released Nov. 3 by U.S. House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA) calling for regulatory reform of federal energy resource management policies. Co-sponsors of the bipartisan bill include Natural Resources Committee Chairman Rob Bishop (R-UT) and Reps. Henry Cuellar (D-TX) and Vincent Gonzalez (D-TX).
Introduction of this legislation occurs concurrently with recent steps taken by the Trump Administration to identify redundant, duplicative, or unnecessary regulations – with an aim to either repeal or amend them.
These executive branch efforts have been useful in terms of reforming regulations adversely impacting the oil and gas industry, such as those outlined in a recent report titled “Review of the Department of the Interior Actions that Potentially Burden Domestic Energy.” The report’s lone mission: Identify actions within the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) that are potentially burdensome to the development or use of domestically produced energy resources.
Using the report, the DOI has initiated steps to amend or eliminate redundant or harmful regulations.
This is a good thing, too. Congress and the Trump administration should be commended for taking steps to reform the country’s regulatory system in a way that reduces redundancy, clearing the clutter from years of band aided solutions that blanketed over regulation after regulation.
There’s one way to do it, ensuring efficiencies in some of our highest levels of government: Set in stone a process where a formal panel identifies redundant rules and harmful regulations. When such policies pop up, seek opportunities to reform them instead of letting them pile up like a game of Jenga.
This is already being done at the state level and can be duplicated if properly acknowledged. In this case, federal authorities should pay close attention to what’s taking place in a variety of states where creative processes have been established to address redundancies, improve communications between regulators and regulated entities, and address permitting backlogs.
States have initiated programs like these to help applicants determine what permits are needed based on an applicant’s specific business needs. They have also deployed new solutions to streamline processes, including business portals, watchdogs, small business assistants, and so-called permit wizards. These tools provide comprehensive permitting information to the applicant, improve communication and efficiency, and reduce uncertainty.
Utilizing industry best practices is one of the best ways to ensure that the most effective and efficient regulations are written and implemented. Several such programs are in place around the country that encourage the development of industry best practices to effectively address safety and environmental issues.
These initiatives promote solutions which are technically and economically viable. They can also be implemented quickly. They help avoid duplication, conflict and uncertainties, which can lead to endless litigation and gridlock. Encouraging adoption of industry best practices helps to avoid the need for costly regulation, while ensuring that safety and environmental concerns are addressed.
An increasingly important, market-driven motivator for the extraction industry to develop and adhere to best practices are environmental, social and governance factors or ESG, which a growing number of analysts and investors recognize as materially important to a company’s overall financial performance.
ESG metrics are being used more by pension funds, private-equity funds and lending institutions to meet socially-responsible investment (SRI) goals and achieve long-term competitive financial returns. Increasingly, investors see ESG performance as a way to measure performance and reduce risk. At present, about one in every five dollars in the capital markets are managed with a strategy of “impact” investing. Considering our country’s desire to ensure businesses are more socially responsible, for energy companies, demonstrating strong ESG performance is increasingly important to their long-term, sustainable financial performance.
Aside from strictly complying with regulations, one enormously important factor for energy companies in demonstrating ESG performance is their ability to establish and adhere to industry best practices, many of which are monitored and tracked through organizations like the Sustainable Accounting Standards Board (SASB).
By voluntarily meeting industry best practices, these companies not only help establish frameworks and standards around which regulators, businesses, and other stakeholders can address issues of concern, it also serves as a way for companies to demonstrate measurable performance of critical concern to an increasingly large segment of the investment community.
Jack Belcher is executive vice president for HBW Resources and consults energy and transportation clients on government relations, regulatory affairs, situational risk management, coalition building and stakeholder relations. He is also Managing Director of the National Ocean Policy Coalition
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