US House Republicans on Friday passed a bill 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 of the power to remove oil from the reserve unless the US Department of Energy has a plan to allow new leases on federal lands and waters for oil exploration.
The vote comes after two volatile years for gas prices, which have risen and fallen in response to several factors. President Joe Biden has been trying to curb the price spikes by selling record quantities from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, federally controlled crude oil stockpiles housed in underground salt caverns along the Gulf Coast in Louisiana and Texas.
The bill would require that the percentage of federal lands and waters open to lease be equal to the percentage of oil withdrawn from the reserve, with a limit of 15%.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.
The measure is unlikely to become law, as Biden has already pledged to veto it, even in the unlikely event that the Democrat-controlled US Senate has to send it to his desk.
House Democrats have largely dismissed the measure as an unserious messaging bill.
GOP hammers on Biden’s energy policy
The Republican message, delivered repeatedly by members over two days of debate, was that Biden mishandled the country’s energy agenda in his first two years in office.
The same 2 1/2-page bill deals narrowly with the Strategic Petroleum Reserve and the leasing of oil and gas on federal land and waters.
Republicans have criticized the use of emergency reserves.
“Today’s bill will help ensure that this vital American energy resource – and American security interests – are not drained for non-emergency political purposes,” said Cathy McMorris Rodgers, chair of the Energy and Security Committee. Washington state commerce, the bill’s lead sponsor. on the House floor on Thursday.
“It provides a pathway to making energy more accessible for Americans, who are turning to us for pump pain relief.”
The bill’s requirement that withdrawals of the Strategic Oil Reserve be offset by additional leases responds to an order in the early days of the Biden administration – later reversed in federal court – to suspend new oil and gas leases on land federal.
But Thursday and Friday’s debate quickly turned into an airing of broader GOP grievances against the administration’s energy agenda.
They said the need to plunder 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 pass from Canada through Montana en route to US refineries, they said. He has tried to import oil, sometimes from opposing countries, while stifling domestic production, they said.
Biden’s moves showed he had “a deliberate plan to destroy America’s oil industry,” said Georgia Republican Marjorie Taylor Greene.
Bill shows “no real vision,” Democrats say
Democrats dismissed the measure as frivolous and counterproductive. If enacted, it would only take away one tool from the presidents of both parties to deal with future oil supply volatility. This would result in less oil being available, not more, they said.
“There is no real vision for Republican energy policy,” said Democrat Frank Pallone of New Jersey, ranked in Energy and Commerce. “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 tool for energy security, resulting in greater oil supply shortages and higher gas prices for working families,” the Biden administration’s policy statement said. “This administration’s use of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR) has been essential in protecting our energy security and in bringing down gas prices for Americans.”
One criticism centered on the idea that more leases do not necessarily lead to more oil reserves.
Energy companies already hold thousands of federal land and water leases that are not being used for oil exploration. Auctioning more leases would do little to increase the supply of oil in the short term or lower the price of gas, Democrats said.
“There is no relationship between opening more federal lands for oil and gas production and the price Americans pay at the pump,” said Colorado Democrat Diana DeGette. “None. And instead of helping to bring prices down for consumers, what this bill does is actually make it harder for future administrations to respond.”
Among the dozen failed Democratic amendments was one by Nevada Susie Lee that would have banned the leasing of land deemed to have low potential for oil and gas.
Democrats and environmentalists generally oppose oil companies leasing lands with little potential, saying those lands would be better used for conservation or recreation.
Second invoice this year in reserve
The measure was the second bill passed by the House this year related to the Strategic Petroleum Reserve.
The first was a measure that banned the sale of the crude oil reserves to China or state-backed Chinese companies. That bill passed on January 12 with widespread bipartisan support.
Republican US Senators John Barrasso of Wyoming and Susan Collins of Maine co-sponsored a similar bill, as did Ted Cruz of Texas. None have Democratic co-sponsors yet.
Barrasso also introduced a similar bill to the one passed by the House on Friday.
56 votes on the amendments
The House took two days, Thursday and Friday, to review the bill under amended open rule, a process that has become rare in recent decades and does not limit any relevant amendments filed by a certain deadline.
Members tabled nearly 150 amendments and voted for 56, rejecting most of them. Others were found to be irrelevant to the bill and received no votes.
Of those that have passed, several have restricted or opened up specific areas for oil exploration.
The amendments offered by Republicans Matt Gaetz of Florida and Nancy Mace of South Carolina stated that existing restrictions on drilling off the coast of those states would still be in effect if the bill becomes law.
U.S. Representative Lauren Boebert, a Republican from Colorado, successfully wrote an amendment that would require any plans for further leasing under the bill that would include identifying portions of the Thompson Divide in her district to be leased.
Another Boebert amendment raised the limit on total land and water offered for lease from 10% to 15%.
The House adopted an amendment by New Jersey Democrat Josh Gottheimer requiring that any withdrawals from the reserve be not sold to China, Iran, North Korea or Russia.
The amendment would expand the bill passed by the House two weeks earlier that only banned sales in China.