WASHINGTON – Seeking to reduce gasoline prices, Rep. Cory Gardner has proposed linking a drawdown of the nation’s crude oil emergency fund to an uptick in the share of federal land leased for oil and gas exploration.
The Fort Collins Republican wants no more than one-tenth of federal land to be leased for oil and gas exploration and to exclude national parks and wilderness areas from his draft proposal. A reported three-to-five percent of federal lands are leased for oil and gas development.
Gardner’s proposal has earned the freshman lawmaker national attention; he delivered the weekly Republican address earlier this month to discuss the Strategic Energy Production Act of 2012. And at a hearing Wednesday before the House Commerce and Energy Committee, members of Congress and White House officials debated his proposal and a related draft bill for more than three hours.
“The economic recovery is at risk without lower gas prices. Tapping the Strategic Petroleum Reserve one time,” Gardner said in his opening statement, alluding to President Obama’s recent statements on the issue, “is a short-term political fix for a long-term problem … Why not make more federal lands available for oil production or streamline oil regulations?”
But Democrats resisted Gardner’s proposal, criticizing it on foreign policy, ideological, and pragmatic grounds. The breadth and depth of partisan opposition suggested that the fate of his draft bill may have to await the outcome of this fall’s elections.
Chris Smith, a deputy assistant secretary at the U.S. Energy Department, indicated Gardner’s proposal could endanger American lives and livelihoods. “The Strategic Petroleum Reserve protects national security, and making it more difficult to drawdown the reserves would not be in the best interests of the nation.”
Rep. Lois Capps (D-Calif.) described Gardner’s proposal as poorly designed. “The Department of Energy has no expertise in lease sales,” she said. “(And) federal lands are different. There is no correlation between increasing the number of federal lands available for oil drilling and actual drilling. There’s no, This parcel over here is equal to that parcel over there.’ This is just not thought out. We need to go back to the drawing board.”
Robert Abbey, director of the Obama Administration’s Bureau of Land Management, said Gardner’s proposal was unnecessary. He noted federal oil production offshore and onshore had jumped 13 percent during the first three years of the Obama administration and oil companies hold thousands of approved permits on federal lands but fail to drill on them.
Seeking to punch holes in Abbey’s testimony, Gardner observed that oil production on federal lands dropped last year to its lowest level since 1984.
With the Obama administration opposed to Gardner’s draft bill, the first-term Republican may need to wait until the results of the November elections to see if his signature proposal becomes law.