U.S. House approves bill to greatly expand offshore drilling

07 26, 2012 by The Times-Picayune

Continuing the partisan divide over energy production policy, the Republican-led House on Wednesday replaced President Barack Obama's five-year plan for offshore drilling with a far more ambitious proposal to expand exploration in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. Rep. Charles Boustany, R-Lafayette, chided the president for offering a drilling plan he said cuts off a large majority of offshore sites to exploration, making a mockery, he said, of the president's proclaimed "all of the above" energy strategy. "Not only will this bill generate a robust drilling plan, creating thousands of new jobs, helping to lower the price at the pump, improve American energy security, and strengthen our national and economic security, but it requires separate environmental reviews for each specific lease sale," Boustany said. "This is good policy."

The Obama plan, unveiled June 28, authorizes 12 lease sales in the Gulf of Mexico and three off the coast of Alaska between 2012 and 2017. The GOP drilling bill, which passed 253-170 with support from 25 Democrats, authorizes 29 lease sales, including areas off the Atlantic coast from Maine to Virginia, the southern coast of California, as well as areas off Alaska and the Gulf Coast.

The bill got the votes of all six Louisiana Republican House members. The delegation's only Democratic member, Cedric Richmond, D-New Orleans, missed the vote to be with President Barack Obama during his visit to the city Wednesday.

Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., called the bill another giveaway to the oil and gas industry, authorizing oil and gas exploration off California and East Coast beaches where local citizens and businesses oppose drilling due to environmental concerns.

"Whatever ExxonMobil wants, whatever Shell wants, whatever BP wants, we'll do it, even if we know millions of people will just be protesting right from the very beginning -- and by the way, without passing one of the reforms from the BP spill commission to make sure that the drilling occurs in a safe fashion," Markey said.

The White House issued a veto threat, saying the plan would force oil and gas development where it isn't wanted or environmentally prudent. Senate Democratic leaders said the House bill will never make it through the Senate.

Rep. Steve Scalise, R-Jefferson, said the House bill will produce jobs and lead to less dependence on foreign oil.

"It's time for President Obama to work with us to develop a long-term plan to promote safe domestic energy production so America can finally reduce our dependence on Middle Eastern oil and increase our energy security," Scalise said.

Meanwhile, Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., joined Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, in offering a Senate bill to expand drilling on the Outer Continental Shelf beyond that called for in the Obama administration's plan, though not into the most controversial locations included in the House bill.

The bill also would eliminate the $500 million cap on revenue sharing, slated to begin in 2017, for the four-oil producing states and would extend the 37.5 percent share of federal royalty payments to all states that accept energy production, including alternative fuels.

"This legislation would replace the administration's shortsighted five-year plan for drilling in the OCS, and instead allow the U.S. to tap into the vast oil and gas potential off our coasts," Landrieu said. "In addition to creating jobs and giving the U.S. economy a much-needed boost through increased energy production revenues, this bill includes revenue sharing for coastal states that produce essential energy resources for our country, something that is lacking in other drilling legislation."

Sen. David Vitter, R-La., also has introduced legislation to allow for significantly more oil and gas development than authorized by the administration's five-year plan.