House approves sweeping package of energy bills

The US House approved a sweeping energy legislative package that supporters said would facilitate development of more domestic oil and gas, and opponents said would seriously gut environmental protections. HR 4480 passed by 248 to 163 votes, and its sponsor, Rep. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), urged the US Senate to take it up promptly.

“These bipartisan pieces of legislation make sure that we move forward on oil and gas development in the western United States and on federal lands,” Gardner said.

The package of seven bills would require the US Department of Energy secretary to develop a plan for more leasing on federal land; streamline the federal drilling permit process; direct the US Interior secretary, when conducting lease sales, to offer previously unavailable acreage as at least 25% of the annually nominated total; and to require analysis of impacts from certain US Environmental Protection Agency rules and actions on gasoline, diesel fuel, and natural gas prices.

Other bills in the package would require the US Interior and Agriculture secretaries to prepare a new federal onshore energy production strategy every 4 years to guide leasing plans; the Interior secretary to hold at least one lease sale/year within the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska, and establish a timeline for promptly considering necessary permits; and authorize the Interior secretary to hold oil and gas lease sales through Internet-based methods.

‘Vitally important’

Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.), chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee’s Energy and Power Subcommittee and sponsor of the fuel price impact analysis bill, said gasoline prices are going down but are still almost double what they were in January 2009.

“It is vitally important to our energy security and economy to ensure we do not implement regulations that will have a devastating effect on jobs or cause the price of gasoline to go even higher,” Whitfield said.

Opponents denounced the measures as a giveaway to the oil and gas industry of hundreds of thousands of acres of public land and as a way to dilute federal environmental regulations.

Amendments that could have preserved major Clean Air Act provisions, fully fund the Commodities Futures Trading Commission, and required federal oil and gas lessees to more diligently develop their holdings were voted down, they said.

Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), the Natural Resources Committee’s ranking minority member, said, “Republicans wouldn’t even allow a debate on wind, solar, and a real ‘all of the above’ energy strategy.”

He called the debate and legislation “a sham.”

Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.), the Energy and Commerce Committee’s ranking minority member, called the legislative package a stealth attack on the Clean Air Act.

“It might be great news for Big Oil, but it means more pollution for the American people,” Waxman  said.

Oil and gas industry groups applauded the House’s approval of the bills.

“Greater access to domestic energy resources, combined with smarter policies that boost our refining industry, will benefit consumers in the long run,” said American Petroleum Institute Executive Vice-Pres. Marty Durbin. “More homegrown energy is good for all Americans.”

‘Much-needed check’

Independent Petroleum Association of America Pres. Barry Russell said the legislation would scale back roadblocks for producers and propel the US on a path toward economic expansion, more jobs, and increased energy security.

“In particular, the legislation includes a much-needed check on EPA with the creation of an inter-agency committee that would assess the effect of proposed rules on the economy,” Russell noted.

American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers Pres. Charles T. Drevna cited the same bill.

“[It] will require an analysis of the cumulative cost and benefits of the multiple, and in many cases conflicting, resolutions faced by refiners, and allows them the opportunity to remain competitive in a global marketplace,” Drevna said.

Environmental organizations condemned the measures. Cindy Shogan, executive director of the Alaska Wilderness League, said that while there is a place for responsible oil and gas leasing within the NPR-A, balanced management is needed instead of rhetoric and empty promises threatening to destroy habitat for caribou, polar bears, and migratory birds.

“This wasn’t a cut-and-dried vote on expanded drilling,” said Franz Matzner, the Natural Resources Defense Council’s associate director of government affairs. “This legislation would prevent citizens from challenging key oil drilling leases and permits on lands that belong to the public.”

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com

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