While President Obama has been bragging across the stump that domestic oil production is at an 8-year high — without clarification that this is due to leases on private land — the Bureau of Land Management reports that the amount of federal acreage leased for energy production is at its lowest point since 1984.
A clever way to reverse that trend while tapping into election-year fears about high gas prices is advancing through the House.
Freshman Rep. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) introduced in March, at the height of the Keystone fury and soaring pump prices, a “compensatory production increase plan” that would place conditions on President Obama should he decide to dip into the Strategic Petroleum Reserve.
Once the president decides to access the SPR, the secretaries of Energy, Agriculture, and the Interior would have 180 days to formulate a plan for new energy leases on federal land — and the production would have to equal that which is sapped from the reserve.
“It gets beyond the quick-fix policies of President Obama,” Gardner told PJM. “It actually moves to a long-term supply solution.”
The legislation was marked up in the Subcommittee on Energy and Power this week, and should be marked up by the full Energy and Commerce Committee, of which Gardner is a member, within the next couple of weeks. The congressman expects the bill to make it to the House floor — for what should be a “great debate” — before Memorial Day, when summer travelers will likely face stinging costs to fill up the tank and candidate Obama will face fresh temptation to drive prices down.
White House press secretary Jay Carney, when pressed by a reporter Tuesday, said he had “no new information” on whether oil will be released from the SPR.
“I’ve made clear that we don’t rule out that action or others that we could potentially take, even as we make clear and the president makes clear that there is no single action that can magically drop the price at the pump that is causing a burden for American families,” Carney said.
Gardner has no doubts that the president would take a swig from the reserve to ease gas prices during the election cycle.
“It’s a trend with this president who’s willing to do anything for politics,” he said.
The congressman, citing statements by Energy Secretary Steven Chu and others, also said this administration is “intentionally trying to drive the price of energy up.”
When Obama redundantly pushes for an “all-of-the-above” energy strategy, “it’s all the above as long as it’s their above,” Gardner said.
A member of the GOP Young Guns program and the conservative Republican Study Committee, Gardner won his district by a whopping 73.3 percent in the midterm GOP House takeover.
He has 14 Republican co-sponsors on the bill, but expects some conservative Democrats will join the effort. He’s also reached out to a few senators about companion legislation in the upper chamber.
Obama last tapped into the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, a 727 million barrel stockpile created during the 1970s Arab oil embargo and intended for use in emergencies, in June 2011. It had been drawn down three previous times: during Operation Desert Storm by Bush Sr., after Hurricane Katrina by George W. Bush, and by Bill Clinton eight weeks before Vice President Al Gore’s presidential election.
The stage is set for renewed oil battles with the administration after the House defied a White House veto threat yesterday and approved 293-127 text calling for the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline inserted into a highway bill.
Sixty-nine Democrats, including Assistant Democratic Leader James Clyburn (D-S.C.) and Democratic Caucus Chairman John Larson (D-Conn.), voted for the bill. Fourteen Republicans voted against it.
“There is an effort — and not for the first time, an effort by Congress — members of Congress who seem to think it is a wise decision to preemptively approve something that will be done — in violation of many, many years of precedent, approve a pipeline that would be built by a foreign company, that emanates from a foreign country without knowing where that pipeline would go,” Carney said at today’s press briefing.
Gardner called Obama’s embrace of part of the pipeline and vow that he’ll expedite the rest of it “disingenuous” and “trying to have it both ways” with both the majority of American consumers and his environmentalist supporters. “The president is on the wrong side of this issue,” he said.
But it just underlines a greater threat to domestic production posed by this administration, he said, and underscores a need for accountability measures such as his bill.
“The totality of actions shows nothing but hostility toward domestic energy production,” Gardner said.