An aerial view of facilities at West Hackberry, part of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, in Louisiana on July 29, 2014. (Department of Energy/U.S. government works)
U.S. House Republicans passed a bill Friday to force the White House to make more federal land and waters available for oil and gas development if the president orders the withdrawal of more oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve.
The bill, passed 221-205, mostly along party lines, would strip the president’s power to remove oil from the reserve unless the U.S. Energy Department has a plan to allow new leasing on federal lands and waters for oil exploration.
The vote comes after a volatile two years for gas prices, which have spiked and fallen in response to several factors. President Joe Biden sought to reduce price spikes by selling record amounts from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, the federally controlled stockpile of crude oil housed in underground salt caverns along the Gulf Coast in Louisiana and Texas.
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The bill would require that the percentage of federal lands and waters opened to leasing is the same as the percentage of oil drawn from the reserve, with a limit of 15%.
All Republicans who voted were in favor, while only one Democrat, Jared Golden of Maine, cast a ballot to pass the bill. Eight members did not vote.
The measure is unlikely to become law, as Biden has already pledged to veto it — even in the unlikely event the Democratic-controlled U.S. Senate were to send it to his desk.
House Democrats largely dismissed the measure as an unserious messaging bill.
GOP hammers on Biden energy policy
The Republican message, voiced repeatedly by members over two days of debate, was that Biden mismanaged the country’s energy agenda in his first two years in office.
The 2 ½-page bill itself deals narrowly with the Strategic Petroleum Reserve and oil and gas leasing on federal lands and waters.
Republicans criticized the use of emergency reserves.
“The bill today will help ensure this vital American energy asset — and American security interests — will not be drained away for non-emergency, political purposes,” the bill’s chief sponsor, Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington state, said on the House floor Thursday. “It provides a path towards making energy more affordable for Americans, who are looking to us to help ease the pain at the pump.”
The bill’s requirement that Strategic Petroleum Reserve withdrawals are offset by additional leasing responds to an order in the early days of the Biden administration — later reversed in federal court — to pause new oil and gas leases on federal lands.
But the debate Thursday and Friday quickly morphed into an airing of wider GOP grievances against the administration’s energy agenda.
They said the need to raid the emergency supply was emblematic of the administration’s misguided policy to limit oil and gas development.
Biden blocked the Keystone XL crude oil pipeline that was to run from Canada through Montana en route to U.S. refineries, they said. He sought to import oil, sometimes from adversarial countries, while stifling domestic production, they said.
Biden’s moves proved he had “an intentional plan to destroy America’s oil industry,” Georgia Republican Marjorie Taylor Greene said.
Bill shows ‘no real vision,’ Democrats say
Democrats dismissed the measure as frivolous and counterproductive. If enacted, it would only take a tool away from presidents of either party to deal with future oil supply volatility. That would result in less available oil, not more, they said.
“There is no real vision for Republican energy policy,” Energy and Commerce ranking Democrat Frank Pallone of New Jersey said. “They are reduced to defending their oil and gas interests and attacking President Biden’s successful efforts to lower gas prices for Americans.”
“The bill would significantly weaken a critical energy security tool, resulting in more oil supply shortages and higher gas prices for working families,” Biden’s statement of administration policy said. “This Administration’s use of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR) has been essential to protecting our energy security and to lowering gas prices for Americans.”
There is no relationship between opening up more federal lands for the production of oil and gas and the price that Americans pay at the pump.
– Colorado Democrat Diana DeGette
One criticism centered on the idea that more leases don’t necessarily lead to more oil reserves.
Energy companies already hold thousands of leases of federal lands and waters that are not being used for oil exploration. Auctioning more leases would do little to increase short-term oil supply or drop the price of gas, Democrats said.
“There is no relationship between opening up more federal lands for the production of oil and gas and the price that Americans pay at the pump,” Colorado Democrat Diana DeGette said. “None. And instead of helping to bring down prices for consumers, what this bill does is it really makes it harder for future administrations to respond.”
Among the dozens of failed Democratic amendments was one from Nevada’s Susie Lee that would have barred leasing of lands deemed to have low potential for oil and gas.
Democrats and environmentalists generally oppose oil companies leasing lands with little potential, saying that those lands would be better used for conservation or recreation.
Second bill this year on reserve
The measure was the second bill the House has passed this year related to the Strategic Petroleum Reserve.
The first was a measure barring sale of the reserve crude oil to China or state-backed Chinese companies. That bill passed Jan. 12 with broad bipartisan support.
Republican U.S. Senators John Barrasso of Wyoming and Susan Collins of Maine have cosponsored a similar bill, as did Ted Cruz of Texas. None yet have Democratic cosponsors.
Barrasso has also introduced a bill similar to the one the House passed Friday.
56 votes on amendments
The House took two days, Thursday and Friday, to consider the bill under a modified open rule, a process that has become rare in recent decades and doesn’t restrict any relevant amendments filed by a certain deadline.
Members filed nearly 150 amendments and voted on 56, rejecting most of them. Others were ruled not germane to the bill and did not receive votes.
Of those that passed, several restricted or opened specific areas for oil exploration.
Amendments offered by Republicans Matt Gaetz of Florida and Nancy Mace of South Carolina stipulated that existing restrictions on drilling off the coasts of those states would still be in effect if the bill became law.
U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert, a Colorado Republican, authored a successful amendment that would require any plan for additional leasing under the bill to include identifying portions of the Thompson Divide in her district to be leased.
Another Boebert amendment lifted the cap on total lands and waters offered for leasing from 10% to 15%.
The House adopted an amendment from New Jersey Democrat Josh Gottheimer requiring that any drawdown from the reserve not be sold to China, Iran, North Korea or Russia.
The amendment would expand the bill the House passed two weeks earlier that barred only sales to China.
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