Democratic Rep. Jim Matheson joined a Republican counterpart from Colorado this week in a "telephone town hall" calling for easier development of oil, gas and oil shale in the West.
Matheson, D-Utah, and Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Colo., participated in an industry group's conference call to answer questions from constituents. They agreed that the region has great reserves of energy but that federal environmental rules slow development unnecessarily.
Matheson said the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act served a purpose in removing clear environmental threats but now are being applied to more complex problems with little chance of significant benefit.
"Things have gotten way out of where the original intent was with that legislation," he said, noting that he and Tipton have voted for regulation-reducing bills that the Senate has dumped.
The Western Energy Alliance conducted the hearing as a promotion for its "Blueprint for Western Energy Prosperity," which predicts the West will produce more oil and gas than hostile exporters by 2020 if government lease reform eases the way.
During the hourlong session, the two representatives answered questions from 12 callers, all of them industry backers and some wanting state control of federal lands a notion Matheson dismissed as a "long haul."
The representatives agreed it's important to nurture the industry on government lands here, or face a flight to friendlier private lands like those in North Dakota.
Oil and gas production is at an all-time high in Utah, with more than 10,300 wells operating at the end of 2011, according to state records. But state officials say more could be operating if the government streamlined its permitting process.
Environmentalists have rejected that argument, noting that thousands of leases are approved but not yet producing, apparently because of business decisions.
Oil shale a rock that contains a form of oil that so far has eluded industry efforts at economical extraction offers vast potential to the two states, Matheson said.
"There are a lot of exciting pilot-scale opportunities in Utah going on right now to access oil from shale," Matheson said.
On Friday, the Bureau of Land Management unveiled a plan that reduces the Western turf devoted to oil shale development from 1.9 million to 462,000 acres.
Tipton touted the "Pioneer Act" advanced in committee this week as a way to encourage the industry.
Skeptics, including the Checks and Balances Project, ripped that bill as a corporate "giveaway" when it passed the House Natural Resources Committee on Thursday, partly because it mandates commercial leasing of public lands for an unproven resource while setting a royalty rate less than half what companies pay the government for oil and gas.