This is an archived article that was published on in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Washington • Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, introduced legislation Thursday that would bar the government from paying attorney fees to environmental groups that win lawsuits and halt energy production.

Bishop's bill also would force the Interior Department to hand out drilling permits more quickly, open up more of the Outer Continental Shelf and Alaska National Wildlife Refuge for oil and gas exploration, and fast-track plans to lease federal lands for oil shale production.

The measure also would order Interior to reissue 77 leases shelved in Utah.

Bishop, who heads a House subcommittee over federal lands, called the legislation a "common-sense" approach that would end bureaucratic red tape and boost domestic energy production.

"This in turn will create thousands of well-paying jobs and begin paying down the growing deficit," Bishop said. "There is no reason that we continue to heavily rely on foreign and often unstable countries like Libya to meet our energy needs."

The United States imports a relatively small amount of crude from Libya.

In 2010, the Department of Energy says the U.S. imported 25 million barrels from the North African country, compared with 925 million barrels from Canada and 460 million from Mexico.

Interior issued a report this week showing that nearly 60 percent of public lands leased to oil and gas companies are sitting idle.

Stephen Bloch, energy program director and attorney for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, says Bishop is off target, given that 975 wells were started in Utah last year, a higher rate than any year between 1985 and 2005. Bloch also said 29 rigs are operating in the state now, more than double the number two years ago.

"Rather than closing the door to energy development in Utah," Bloch said, "[Interior] has worked to bring balance to public land management."

Sen. David Vitter, R-La., plans to introduce companion legislation in the Senate.