US Republican House of Representatives Passes Bill Opening More Public Land to Development If Reserve Oil Is Tapped
On Friday, Republicans in the US House of Representatives passed a bill requiring the White House to allocate more federal land and waters for oil and gas exploration if the president orders more oil to be withdrawn from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve.
Bill 221-205, largely partisan, would remove the president’s power to withdraw oil from the reserve unless the US Department of Energy has a plan to allow new leases on federal land and waters for oil exploration.
The vote comes after two years of volatile gas prices that have risen and fallen in response to several factors. President Joe Biden has sought to reduce price spikes by selling record volumes from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, a federally controlled stock of crude oil located in underground salt caverns along the Gulf Coast of Louisiana and Texas.
The bill requires that the percentage of federal land and water areas open for lease be the same as the percentage of oil received from the reserve, but not more than 15%.
All Republicans who voted were in favor, while only one Democrat, Jared Golden of Maine, voted to pass the bill. Eight members did not vote. Nebraska Rep. Adrian Smith, Mike Flood, and Don Bacon, all Republicans, voted in favor.
The measure is unlikely to become law, as Biden has already promised to veto it — even in the unlikely event that the Democratic-controlled US Senate sends it to his desk.
House Democrats have largely dismissed the measure as a frivolous messaging bill.
GOP criticizes Biden’s energy policy
The message from the Republicans, echoed repeatedly by members during the two days of debate, was that Biden mismanaged the nation’s energy agenda in his first two years in office.
The 2 ½ page law itself deals narrowly with the Strategic Petroleum Reserve and oil and gas leases on federal lands and waters.
Republicans have criticized the use of emergency reserves.
“Today’s bill will help ensure that this vital US energy asset — and American security interests — is not used for non-emergency political purposes,” said the bill’s lead author, Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Kathy McMorris Rogers of Washington State. on the floor of the house on Thursday.
“This paves the way for making energy more affordable for Americans who are looking to us to help ease the pain at the gas station.”
The bill’s requirement that the removal of strategic oil reserves be offset by additional leases responds to a Biden administration order, later overturned by a federal court, to suspend new oil and gas leases on federal lands.
But Thursday’s and Friday’s debate quickly turned into a demonstration of the GOP’s broader grievances over the administration’s energy agenda.
They said the need to raid the emergency stock was emblematic of the administration’s misguided policy of limiting oil and gas production.
According to them, Biden blocked the Keystone XL oil pipeline, which was supposed to pass from Canada through Montana on its way to US refineries. According to them, he sought to import oil, sometimes from warring countries, while suppressing domestic production.
Biden’s actions proved he had a “deliberate plan to destroy America’s oil industry,” said Georgia Republican Marjorie Taylor Green.
Democrats Say Bill Shows No ‘Real Vision’
Democrats dismissed the measure as frivolous and counterproductive. If it is passed, the presidents of either side will only be deprived of a tool to deal with future volatility in the oil supply. According to them, this will lead to a decrease in available oil, not an increase in it.
“Republicans don’t have a real vision for energy policy,” said New Jersey’s top energy and trade Democrat Frank Pallone. “They are forced to defend their oil and gas interests and criticize President Biden’s successful efforts to lower gas prices for Americans.”
“The bill would significantly weaken a critical tool for energy security, leading to even greater oil shortages and higher gas prices for working families,” Biden said in a statement on administration policy. “This administration’s use of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR) was necessary to protect our energy security and lower gas prices for Americans.”
One criticism has centered on the idea that an increase in the number of leases does not necessarily lead to an increase in oil reserves.
Energy companies already own thousands of federal lands and waters that are not used for oil exploration. Auctioning more leases will do little to boost short-term oil supplies or lower gas prices, Democrats say.
“There is no connection between opening up more federal land to oil and gas production and the price Americans pay at the gas station,” said Colorado Democrat Diana DeGette. “No one. And instead of helping lower prices for consumers, this bill is really making it harder for future administrations to respond.”
Among the dozens of failed Democratic amendments was that of Nevada’s Susie Lee, which prohibited the leasing of lands with low oil and gas production potential.
Democrats and environmentalists generally oppose oil companies leasing land with little potential, saying the land is better used for conservation or recreation.
Second account this year in reserve
The measure was the second bill passed by the House of Representatives this year relating to the Strategic Petroleum Reserve.
The first was a measure banning the sale of reserve crude oil to China or Chinese state-backed companies. This bill was passed on January 12 with broad bipartisan support.
Republican Senators John Barrasso of Wyoming and Susan Collins of Maine co-sponsored a similar bill, as did Ted Cruz of Texas. No one has Democratic co-sponsors yet.
Barrasso also introduced a bill similar to the one passed by the House of Representatives on Friday.
It took the House of Representatives two days, Thursday and Friday, to consider the bill under the amended open rule, a process that has become rare in recent decades and does not limit any relevant amendments to a specific deadline.
Members submitted about 150 amendments and voted in favor of 56, rejecting most of them. Others were deemed inappropriate for the bill and received no votes.
Of those that have passed, several have limited or opened specific areas for oil exploration.
The amendments, proposed by Republicans Matt Gaetz of Florida and Nancy Mays of South Carolina, provided that existing restrictions on drilling offshore those states would remain in place if the bill became law.
U.S. Rep. Lauren Bobert, a Colorado Republican, drafted a successful amendment that would require any additional lease plan under the bill to include the portions of the Thompson Watershed in her county to be leased.
Another Bobert amendment raised the limit on the total amount of land and water offered for lease from 10% to 15%.
The House of Representatives passed an amendment by New Jersey Democrat Josh Gottheimer that any withdrawal from the reserve should not be sold to China, Iran, North Korea or Russia.
The amendment will expand on a bill passed by the House of Representatives two weeks earlier that would only ban sales to China.
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