WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, today sent a letter to the Department of Transportation’s Maritime Administration (MARAD) seeking information about its lengthy delays in reaching decisions on applications for deepwater ports for exporting oil and natural gas. The letter also urges MARAD to meet its statutory deadlines to make decisions. Currently, four of the seven applications for licenses are for projects located off the coast of Texas.
In the letter, Sen. Cruz wrote:
“As Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, I write to request information regarding the Maritime Administration’s Deepwater Port Act licensing program. The timely and responsible administration of this program is essential to meeting the energy, environmental, and foreign policy goals outlined by Congress in the Deepwater Port Act of 1974. Congress established mandatory timelines of 240 days to conclude public hearings and 356 days to reach a decision on a deepwater port application. These statutory timelines provide a reliable regulatory framework intended to spur private-sector investment in energy infrastructure.
“Four out of the seven licenses and license applications for deepwater ports are off the coast of Texas. Together these projects will create or support thousands of jobs and generate billions of dollars in economic benefits. Once operational, these deepwater ports will increase our energy export capabilities, helping to establish greater energy security for our allies who are suffering from Russia’s weaponization of its energy reserves. These ports will also support the environment by displacing less efficient export modes and foreign-produced sources of energy with higher levels of emissions and pollution.
“I am concerned that these deepwater port projects, which contribute to the State of Texas and to the economic and energy security of the nation, are being delayed unnecessarily. The Maritime Administration is going more than three years on average without issuing a deepwater port licensing decision—almost three times as long as is statutorily permitted. While these projects are complex and require the review and input of the public and other state and federal agencies, applicants have complained of prolonged delays associated with the Maritime Administration’s slow processing time and general lack of communication during the process.”
Sen. Cruz’s letter requests that MARAD provide the planned timeline for issuing all pending deepwater port licenses, and asks for quarterly updates regarding all pending license applications to ensure that the agency is working diligently on these applications.
To read the full text of this letter click here.
There are seven applicants currently seeking to obtain licenses from MARAD for the ownership, construction, operation, and decommissioning of deepwater port structures located beyond the U.S. territorial sea for the import and export of oil and natural gas. Of the seven applicants, four are for projects located off the Texas coast.
Congress established a legal timeline of 356 days for an approval or denial of such licenses.
To skirt this 356-day timeline, MARAD has asked applicants for additional information, often paused the clock, and has not resumed it in many situations. The result has been that the average project approval time has ballooned to approximately 1,000 days, which is close to triple the mandatory time limit.
There can be additional delays to the granting of licenses such as completing an “Environmental Justice engagement plan” or other burdens under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). For example, a project was delayed by several months after MARAD asked the applicant to re-publish for public comment a draft Environmental Impact Statement in Vietnamese.
The uncertainty over whether and when MARAD will approve these plans (or move the goalposts) makes planning and investment difficult for applicants, thus reducing job growth, and hurting allies seeking to import U.S. energy.
According to MARAD, delayed applications for deepwater ports date back as far as May of 2019, meaning projects that would allow the processing of substantial amounts of oil and gas every single day and help provide good-paying jobs for hard-working energy workers have remained stalled arbitrarily.
Sen. Cruz’s past efforts to streamline permitting processes and complete infrastructure projects:
Sen. Cruz has long championed efforts to loosen the NEPA’s stranglehold on various projects and end excessive government scrutiny as part of his efforts to allow jobs to flourish in Texas and beyond. On March 16, 2021, Sen. Cruz introduced the UNSHACKLE Act, which combines five NEPA reform bills on agency process, state expansion, legal changes, and data reporting into one comprehensive text. This legislation aims at speeding up the process by imposing “shot clocks” for Environmental Impact Statements, reforming the process for Environmental Impact Statements, imposing a statute of limitations for legal challenges, and allowing state agencies to carry out the NEPA process on the federal government’s behalf.