House passes drilling-friendly energy package
WASHINGTON—The Republican-controlled House endorsed a plan Thursday to vastly expand oil and gas drilling off the nation's coasts to help pay for a $260 billion transportation bill.
The legislation has no chance of passing the Senate and faces a White House veto. But for Republicans, the 237-187 vote showed they're willing to go further to boost U.S. energy production than President Barack Obama. Obama lately has embraced increased oil and gas production on the campaign trail, and has touted how the U.S. in recent years has produced record amounts of oil and natural gas.
"The bill we are considering ... is an action plan that clearly contrasts President Obama's anti-energy policies with the pro-energy, pro-American jobs policies of Republicans," said Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee.
The legislation, which 21 Republicans voted against and 21 Democrats voted for, would open the eastern Gulf of Mexico off Florida and areas off the Atlantic and Pacific coasts to drilling, lift a ban on drilling in a small portion of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and order leases to be offered for Western oil shale.
Obama has said he would not pursue drilling off the Pacific and in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and has pushed back offering leases in the Atlantic until at least 2017.
The measure also would force the approval of the Keystone XL oil pipeline within a month, which Obama recently rejected, saying there wasn't enough time for an adequate environmental review.
Democrats argued that the bill amounted to a gift for an oil industry that was headed nowhere and would pay only a fraction of the cost of the transportation bill. The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that the offshore drilling portions alone would bring in $4.3 billion between 2013-2022, a number Republicans say is underestimated.
It was also unclear whether the energy provisions, which were added as a sweetener to get tea partiers behind the expensive transportation bill, will help save the measure. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, put off action on the legislation until after next week's congressional recess when it became clear even his own party wasn't enthusiastic about it.
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, echoing the sentiments of other Democrats, said this week that the additional drilling provided "phantom revenue."
"We know that these places are not going to be developed in the near-term at all," Salazar said at a congressional hearing Wednesday on his agency's budget. "It will not fund the transportation needs of the United States of America."
Follow Dina Cappiello's environment coverage on Twitter: (at)dinacappiello