WASHINGTON — The House passed legislation Thursday to require the Obama administration to move ahead this year with lease sales — three in the Gulf of Mexico and one off the coast of Virginia — that were canceled by the administration after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
The vote was 266-149, with 33 Democrats – including Rep. Cedric Richmond, D-New Orleans – voting "yes" and 2 Republicans voting "no."
The administration opposed the bill which it said would "hastily open areas of the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic using outdated (National Environmental Policy Act) analysis that was conducted before the Deepwater Horizon oil spill."
"The Administration has strengthened NEPA analysis in light of lessons learned from the spill," the Office of Management and Budget said in a statement Thursday, noting that the Department of Interior already "intends to hold all three Gulf of Mexico lease sales referenced in the bill by mid-2012."
The legislation is the first of three GOP bills intended to increase domestic energy production by opening new territory to drilling and picking up the pace of permitting.
"Finally we are doing what the American people have been asking them to do — start the process of stopping to kick the energy problem can in this country down the road," said Rep. Jeff Landry, R-New Iberia, in one of several floor speeches he made during the several hours of debate on the bill. "Finally we are going to take the steps necessary to put people back to work and start America down a path toward affordable domestic energy now."
Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., the chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee and author of all three bills, said passage of this legislation would help reduce gas prices because it "will send a strong signal to the world market that the U.S. is serious about producing our own resources and bringing more American production on line."
Hastings said that if there was no lease sale this year, it would be the first time since 1958.
Democrats depicted Republicans as pawns of the oil and gas industry, blind to the lessons of last year’s disaster, and argued that passage would do nothing to bring down gas prices, which they said was being driven up by Wall Street speculation that they said Republicans were uninterested in cracking down on.
"They say, ‘it’s supply and demand,’" said Rep Peter DeFazio, D-Ore.. "It’s not supply and demand. It’s market manipulation. It’s price gouging. It’s profiteering. It’s speculation. Do something about it."
Republicans refused to let Democrats offer an amendment to eliminate $32 billion over ten years in tax breaks for the five largest oil companies.
Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass., the top Democrat on the Natural Resources Committee, spoke next to a chart showing profits for the Big Five oil companies for the first quarter of 2011 – $10.7 billion for ExxonMobil, $8.8 billion for Shell, 7.1 billion for BP, $6.2 billion for Chevron, and $3 billion for ConocoPhillips.
Markey then displayed another placard with an image of an oil derrick placed over the Medicare program.
He said the Republican energy strategy featured "nothing" on safety, or alternative energy or "corralling the speculators," but instead were determined to "go into the Medicare budget of grandpa and grandma" in order to maintain the tax incentives for an industry that he said was enjoying record profits, and didn’t need incentives to drill anymore than incentives were required for "fish to swim, or birds to fly."
"They say we’re robbing grandma and grandpa, but grandma and grandpa hold stock in these energy companies," said Landry, who said that in his district, "their grandsons and grandchildren are working in an industry that provides that energy and right now they don’t have a job, they’re being laid off, or being sent to Brazil or Africa or to the Middle East to drill for oil out there while we have spent over a trillion dollars of taxpayer money … to wean us off of foreign oil."
Landry said he also didn’t understand why Democrats wanted to beat up on Big Oil
"As a freshman it’s hard for me to understand how we continue to reward failures and punish winners," said Landry. "It just amazes me."
Rep. Steve Scalise, R-Jefferson, who spoke between comments by Pelosi and Markey, also argued that "raising taxes on American energy production" would only mean "higher prices at the pump."
"You want to talk about a warped policy," said Scalise, who said, "our demand continues to increase for oil while the president is out tilting at windmills," an apparent reference to the administration’s commitment to developing alternative energy, like wind power.
"It’s because of these politics that the price of gas has more than doubled since he has taken office," Scalise said of President Barack Obama.
Markey and other Democrats suggest that a better strategy to lower gas prices would be to tap into the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, which he said was done with considerable success by both Presidents Bush and President Bill Clinton. Markey also had a chart for that, showing that use of the reserve had brought down gas prices 33.4 percent in 1991, 18.7 percent in 200, and 9.1 percent in 2005, after Hurricane Katrina.
Source: House passes bill to force offshore lease sales this year in Gulf and off coast of Virginia