This Week in the Congress

by Myron Ebell on February 4, 2012

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House Natural Resources Committee Votes To Open ANWR and OCS to Oil Production  

The House Natural Resources Committee on Wednesday, 1st February, passed three bills to increase oil production on federal lands and offshore areas.  The House Republican leadership plans to include the three bills as provisions in the five-year, $260-billion highway bill that was passed by the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee after a grueling seventeen-hour mark-up that ended at 3 AM on Friday, 3rd February.

H. R. 3407, which passed the committee on a 29 to 13 vote, would open the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) on Alaska’s North Slope to oil exploration.  Three Democrats voted for the bill: Representatives Dan Boren (D-Okla.), Jim Costa (D-Calif.), and Pedro Pierluisi (D-Puerto Rico).  No one knows how much oil there may be below ANWR’s coastal plain, but the U. S. Geological Survey estimates recoverable reserves of 11 billion barrels.  That is probably a very conservative estimate.

The second bill, H. R. 3410, would require the Department of the Interior to hold auctions for exploration leases in the federal Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) areas in the Atlantic and Pacific that are considered to have the largest reserves of oil, including off the coast of southern California.  That bill passed by a 34-19 vote.

The third bill, H. R. 3408, would require new oil shale leases in Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming.  The committee approved it on a 27-16 vote.

A proposal to designate some of the federal revenues from this new oil production to funding highway projects will also be included in the highway bill.  Highway projects have historically been funded by the 18.5 cents per gallon tax on gasoline, but the gas tax is not bringing in enough revenue to fully fund the highway bill.  Diverting oil royalties to fund highway projects has encountered opposition from several groups across the political spectrum.  CEI’s Marc Scribner argues that adding another dedicated source of funding undermines the user-pays principle upon which the Highway Trust Fund is based.

House Insisting on Keystone Pipeline

Rep. Fred Upton, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, announced on 3rd February that his committee next week will mark up the bill that requires permitting of the Keystone XL pipeline.  H. R. 3548 takes the decision away from the President and orders the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to permit the 1700-mile pipeline project from Alberta’s oil sands to refineries in Louisiana and Texas.  The House Republican leadership has made it clear that the Keystone bill will be added to the five-year, $260 billion highway bill.  The highway bill was passed out of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee at 3 AM on Friday, 3rd February, and is expected to be debated on the House floor the week of 13th February.

House Republicans are also planning to attach the Keystone language to the payroll tax cut extension bill that must be enacted before the two-month extension passed in December expires at the end of February.  The two-month extension bill required that President Obama make a decision within sixty days.  President Obama denied the Keystone permit on 18th January, but did not base his decision on the national interest as required by the legislation he signed into law.

This should present Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) with a problem because a number of Democratic Senators support the Keystone pipeline.  Reid and the White House will have to do some arm-twisting to keep the Senate from agreeing to the House’s Keystone provision.

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