WASHINGTON – In an election-year swipe at President Barack Obama's energy policies, the Republican-led House on Wednesday voted to revoke Obama's five-year plan for offshore drilling, replacing it with its own plan that calls for more ambitious oil and gas development off the U.S. coast.
The legislation will likely go nowhere in the Senate and the White House has issued a veto threat, but as with the tax and regulatory bills the House is also taking up this month, it puts lawmakers on the record on the issues that divide the two parties.
Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., chairman of the Natural Resources Committee, said the bill would offer lawmakers a choice between Obama's restrictive plan and the far more expansive Republican version that opens up areas off the Atlantic and southern California for drilling.
The Republican proposal passed 253-170 with 25 Democrats supporting it. The House also voted 261-164 to reject the president's plan.
The Interior Department on June 28 announced its 2012-2017 offshore oil and gas leasing program that schedules 12 potential lease sales in the Gulf of Mexico and three off the coast of Alaska. The White House, in its veto threat issued earlier this week, said its plan makes available for development more than 75 percent of estimated, technically recoverable oil and gas resources in U.S. oceans.
The House bill, by contrast, provides for 29 lease sales over the same five-year period, and includes areas of the Atlantic coast from Maine to Virginia, and areas off the southern coast of California as well as Alaska and Gulf areas.
Hastings said the administration's plan proposed fewer leases than any administration since the Jimmy Carter presidency. Singling out an election swing state, he said "Virginia will be left out in the cold" until 2017 at the earliest, cheating the commonwealth of thousands of jobs. The Obama plan, he said, keeps 85 percent of America's offshore areas off-limits to energy production.
He and other Republicans said the Bush administration, responding to $4 gas prices in the summer of 2008, had newly opened nearly all offshore areas to energy production, but that Obama tossed that decision aside when he took office in 2009. The Obama administration, he said, has spent the past 3 1/2 years on a plan "that effectively re-imposes the drilling moratoria lifted in 2008."
Hastings said the GOP plan would generate $600 million in additional revenue and create tens of thousands of new jobs.
But Rep. Ed Markey of Massachusetts, top Democrat on the Natural Resources Committee, chided Republicans for bringing six "giveaways to Big Oil" to the House floor, "all far too extreme to pass the Senate." The Republican bill, he said "would place drill rigs right off our beaches in Southern California" as well as off beaches in Maine and other eastern states.
Democrats also argued that more domestic oil is in production today than at any time during the past 14 years and that oil companies already have leases in the Gulf that contain 18 billion barrels of oil and are sitting idle.
The White House said the GOP bill would mandate Outer Continental Shelf lease sales in areas "without regard for significant issues such as state and local concerns and impacts on important fishing areas and with inadequate consideration of military use conflicts."
Congress has 60 days from the time the Interior Department issued the proposal to reject or change it. Without congressional action, the plan will go into effect.
Alaska's Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski on Wednesday introduced a companion to the House bill that adds lease sales off the mid-Atlantic coast, allows exploration from existing oil wells in southern California and provides revenue sharing to states with energy production off their coasts. Virginia's two Democratic senators, Jim Webb and Mark Warner, were among her co-sponsors.