WASHINGTON – The House of Representatives approved legislation Thursday that seeks to boost domestic oil production by cutting federal red tape, spurring a partisan-fueled debate as to whether increasing the number of oil leases is more likely to create new jobs or harm the environment.
Rep. Cory Gardner (R-Yuma) cast the Strategic Energy Production Act of 2012 (H.R. 4480) as a common-sense effort to produce more oil and gas at home rather than abroad.
“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, and that we take steps to ensure our nation relies on American-made energy, provided by American jobs,” he said in a statement.
When House Republicans introduced parts of the bill this spring, they emphasized that their measures would reduce gasoline prices, which had soared to more than $4.00 a gallon in many parts of the country. Now proponents also emphasize the bill’s job-creating possibilities after gas prices dipped and the nation’s jobless rate remained at more than 8 percent.
“I think the stress is more on jobs,” Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colorado Springs) said in an interview after the vote. “Gas prices are more dependent on global market exchanges.”
Each of Colorado’s four House Republicans sponsored a measure that was included in the legislation. Gardner’s provision would link a decrease in the nation’s emergency oil reserves to an increase in the number of oil leases permitted on federal lands.
Rep. Scott Tipton’s (R-Cortez) bill would require the Secretary of Interior to set up goals for federal land energy production from all energy sources, while Rep. Lamborn’s would streamline and reform the federal process for energy permits on federal lands once a lease is in hand. Rep. Mike Coffman (R-Lone Tree)’s provision would direct the federal government to make available at least one-quarter of the federal lands open for leasing for which companies are interested in developing.
The bill passed on a 248-to-163 vote. Its supporters and opponents were divided mainly by partisan affiliation, but also by region. Two-hundred-twenty nine House Republicans joined 19 House Democrats, most of who represent rural districts in red states, in voting for the bill. One-hundred-fifty eight House Democrats joined five House Republicans, most of who represent suburban and urban districts in blue states, in opposing it.
Each of Colorado’s three House Democrats voted against the bill.
Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Denver), a member of the House Energy Committee, said in a statement that Republicans’ economic claims about the legislation were overblown, citing figures from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and environmental and scientific organizations. “I’m disappointed to see that, once again, my colleagues across the aisle are more concerned about protecting the oil industry than they are about creating jobs and keeping our families safe and healthy. Since 2008, fewer than 14,000 oil and gas extraction jobs have been created despite the fact that production continues to climb, while the same period has seen almost four times as many jobs created in the wind and solar industries.”
Gardner urged the U.S. Senate to approve the legislation, but the Democrat-controlled upper chamber is unlikely to do so.
The Obama administration issued a statement Tuesday in strong opposition to the bill, saying the measure would undermine domestic energy production and clean-air safety. The statement added that President Obama would veto the bill.