WASHINGTON — House Republicans on Wednesday passed a bill to simplify government rules that hinder energy production despite objections from Democrats who said immigration and anti-discrimination protection for gays should take precedence over western issues as Congress wraps up its work before the holidays.
The measure authored by Colorado Republican Rep. Doug Lamborn passed on a bipartisan vote of 228 to 192, and sets firm timelines for permit approvals and requires the Bureau of Land Management to lease 25 percent of approved acreage.
The Colorado delegation vote stayed within party lines, with Republican Reps. Lamborn, Scott Tipton, Cory Gardner and Mike Coffman voting yes, and Democrat Reps. Diana DeGette, Jared Polis and Ed Perlmutter voting no.
“Since taking office, despite claims to the contrary, President Obama has waged a war on energy development,” Lamborn said.
“Under this administration, a simple permit, which in my home State of Colorado on average takes 27 days to approve, takes nearly a year on federal land and only miniscule areas of land have been leased for energy development despite significant interest in many more acres,” Lamborn said.
The measure would also open up the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska for energy production, allows the government to conduct lease sales over the Internet, and would inject certainty into the leasing process.
House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, Maryland Democrat, made a rare appearance on the House floor during a primarily western bill debate, and echoed other Democrats who chastised Republicans for passing the bill instead of more “pressing” issues like the budget, farm bill, legalizing the status of undocumented immigrants, and an anti-discrimination measure to protect gays in the workplace.
“This is the fiddle on which we are playing as Rome is burning,” Hoyer said. “America is rightfully disgusted with the Congress of the United States, me too.”
Hoyer also defended President Barack Obama’s record on energy production, and said there are more oilrigs operating in America today than in the rest of the world combined.
However, Republicans countered that under the Obama administration, fewer federal acres have been leased for energy production, and that in some cases legally acquired leases were revoked.
“Since President Obama took office, production on federal lands has declined significantly including a staggering 21 percent decline in federal natural gas production,” said Rep. Scott Tipton, Colorado Republican.
“Colorado, along with our neighboring western states, is in a unique position to contribute to our nation’s energy security and ensure that the United States remains competitive in the world market,” Tipton said.
Included in Lamborn’s bill is legislation authored by Tipton that requires the Interior Department to create an all-of-the-above energy plan on public lands that includes wind, solar, hydropower, geothermal, oil, gas, coal, oil shale and minerals.
“These goals would be accomplished responsibly without repealing a single environmental regulation or review process,” Tipton said.
Rep. Peter DeFazio, Oregon Democrat, called the bill a “turkey” and said that legislation designed to increase energy production would not help consumers.
“We need to look at alternative energy on public lands, so we can deal with climate change that some of us believe in,” DeFazio said.
The White House has already threatened to veto the measure if it passes the Senate.
The White House Office of Management and Budget said in a statement that Lamborn’s bill would undermine the nation’s energy security, harm the environment, “and undermine public resource management plans that establish a balance between energy development and resource protection.”
The White House also took credit for increasing oil production in the U.S. but Lamborn said energy companies are “fleeing” from federal lands in favor of privately held and state-controlled property.
“While the president tries to take credit for increased energy production under his administration, the reality is that the vast majority of any increased production occurs on state and private land that the federal government has no jurisdiction over,” Lamborn said.
Since 2009, total federal oil production fell eight percent and total natural gas production on federal land is down 21 percent, Lamborn said.