House Votes to Aid Drilling in Weeklong GOP Offensive on Obama's Energy Policy

WASHINGTON – The House has passed a measure streamlining the process for energy drilling on public lands while also requiring an increase in the number of lease sales in the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska.

In a 228-192 vote mostly along party lines, the lower chamber approved the Federal Lands Jobs and Energy Security Act, sponsored by Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.), which deems any request to drill on federal lands to be approved if the secretary of the Department of Interior fails to act within 60 days of its receipt. The bill further requires the secretary to establish a federal permit streamlining project in each of the Bureau of Land Management field offices in an effort to further expedite the process.

Critics who might desire to file an objection to any oil and gas lease sales or permitting decisions would have to pay a $5,000 fee to file an appeal. Bobby McEnaney, senior lands analyst and deputy director of the Western Renewables Energy Program for the Natural Resources Defense Council, called that provision “a gross abuse of power, closing the courthouse door particularly on voices of minorities and other local community members trying to improve responsible management of public lands.”

The bill was the first among several to be considered this week supported by the House Republican majority aimed at increasing energy production and lowering the nation’s dependence on foreign oil. On Thursday, lawmakers are scheduled to debate and vote on legislation authored by Rep. Bill Flores (R-Texas) intended to restrict the Interior Department's planned regulation of hydraulic fracturing used to extract oil shale and natural gas.

Neither bill, opposed by environmentalists, is expected to survive beyond House passage. The Senate is not expected to consider it and the White House already has announced its intention to veto both measures.

In its message, the White House stated the Lamborn bill will “reverse administration oil and gas leasing reforms that have established orderly, open, efficient, and environmentally sound processes for energy development on public lands. Specifically, this bill would favor an arbitrary standard for leasing in open areas over leasing on the basis of greatest resource potential; limit the public's opportunity to engage in decisions about the use of public lands; raise the potential for costly litigation, protests, and delays; strip the ability of the Department of the Interior to issue permits to drill based on important environmental reviews, clearances and tribal consultation; and curtail the use of public lands for other uses like hunting, fishing, and recreation.”

But Republicans argued the nation’s energy needs should surmount any opposition arguments.

“With millions of Americans still looking for work, growing debts and deficits and energy prices that are still far too high, the United States needs to implement an all-of-the-above energy plan to responsibly harness our nation's energy resources on our federal lands,” said Rep. Doc Hastings (R-Wash.), chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee. “New energy production is one of the best ways to grow the economy and create new jobs to put people back to work.”

But Rep. Rush Holt (D-N.J.) called the provisions “misguided, unnecessary, and environmentally harmful,” noting that the U.S. already is in the midst of “an almost unprecedented oil and gas boom” that has led to the nation’s crude oil production surpassing imports for the first time in 20 years. The International Energy Agency projected that the US will become the world’s top oil producer by 2015.

Hastings argued the production statistics cloud the true picture. The increased oil production, he said, is occurring on private and state lands – areas that don’t face as many federal regulations.

“Federal lands are being left behind,” he said. “However, this lack of production on federal lands is not for a lack of resources. We have tremendous potential for new onshore oil and natural gas production on federal lands, but the Obama administration is actively and purposely keeping these resources off limits. Leasing and permitting delays, regulatory hurdles, and ever-changing rules are a few of the reasons energy production on federal lands is in decline.”