US House schedules debate on Senate's OCS bill

Dec. 4, 2006
US House leaders included the Senate's Outer Continental Shelf oil and gas leasing reform bill on Dec. 1 when they announced 16 measures scheduled for floor debate this week.

Nick Snow
Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON, DC, Dec. 4 -- US House leaders included the Senate's Outer Continental Shelf oil and gas leasing reform bill on Dec. 1 when they announced 16 measures scheduled for floor debate this week.

S. 3711 and 15 other bills will be considered under suspensions of the rules, which mean they can't be amended from the floor. For the Senate OCS bill, that means opposition primarily will come from House members who are against any expansion of OCS leasing.

Resources Committee Chairman Richard W. Pombo (R-Calif.) and other proponents of HR 4761, the House's more aggressive 2006 OCS bill possibly may protest that S. 3711 doesn't go far enough, but they probably will vote for it.

"What concerns me is that a month from now, when natural gas finds its way past $12[/MMbtu] again, folks out there will be scratching their heads as to why we didn't pass a more comprehensive bill. I'll be one of them," said John E. Peterson (R-Pa.), one of HR 4761's primary sponsors.

"If nothing else, though, the Senate bill does establish a worthwhile precedent upon which we will continue to improve next Congress, while at the same time freeing up a modest amount of natural gas," Peterson said.

Bobby Jindal (R-La.), one of HR 4761's main sponsors, said he pressed Majority Leader John Boehner (R-Mo.) and Majority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) to put S. 3711 on the House floor calendar because it represented the best solution at this point.

"With only one legislative week remaining, it is imperative that we pass this legislation quickly. I have personally talked to the administration [of President George W. Bush], and the White House agreed to sign this legislation as soon as it passes," Jindal said.

Eighteen Republican House members also pressed Boehner in a Nov. 15 letter to bring S. 3711 instead of HR 4761 to the floor during the lame duck session.

Directly to Bush
The Senate OCS bill's passage in the House without amendments would send it directly to the White House for Bush's signature, which is expected, making it the first new federal oil and gas law since the 2005 Energy Policy Act.

One Senate energy leader was especially pleased that the House leadership decided to consider the bill in the 109th Congress's final week of business.

"Today's announcement reflects a tremendous breakthrough in our efforts to close the gap between the Senate's bill and the broader plan favored by the House," said Energy and Natural Resources Committee member Mary L. Landrieu (D-La.) on Dec. 1.

S. 3711 would open 8.3 million acres in the eastern Gulf of Mexico to federal oil and gas leasing, including tracts from OCS Lease Sale No. 181, which Bush withdrew in 2001, and adjacent acreage to the south in deeper water.

The bill also contains a provision that would give Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama 37.5% of new federal revenues from leasing off their coasts. Another 12.5% would fund park and open-space development by supporting the state side of the Land and Water Conservation Fund, according to Landrieu.

"We are now closer than ever to passing this significant step toward securing Louisiana's fair share and a reliable funding stream to protect our vanishing coast. Hard work still remains as we all work together to win the support needed to pass this bill and get it to the president's desk," she said.

Florida's buffer
The bill also contains a provision establishing a 125-mile leasing buffer off Florida outside the Sale 181 area for 16 years, which was crucial in winning the support of the state's two US senators.

"It's a good compromise that I was proud to help negotiate. Passing this legislation locks in needed protection for Florida's gulf while helping our country explore domestic sources of energy," said Mel Martinez (R-Fla.).

Senators from other coastal states who oppose OCS oil and gas leasing off their states' shorelines said they wanted bans similar to Florida's on Aug. 1 during floor debate on S. 3711 just prior to passage.

S. 3711 was not the only oil and gas bill House Republican leaders placed on the floor schedule for this week. HR 5110, the "More Water and More Energy Act," which Rep. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) introduced on April 10, also is there.

It would direct the US Interior Secretary to identify obstacles to using more water produced with oil and gas. HR 5110 also would authorize $5 million for three pilot plants in Colorado, California, and Arizona or Nevada to demonstrate ways in which produced water can be made suitable for other uses.

Contact Nick Snow at [email protected].