OVERNIGHT ENERGY: The House offshore drilling battle begins

State of Play: The House will vote Thursday on a GOP-backed bill to expand domestic oil drilling — one of several measures that reflect Republican claims that the White House is stymieing U.S. energy production. 

But Democrats hope to turn the vote into a referendum on oil industry tax breaks.

The Republican drilling bill, authored by House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings (R-Wash.), would set a timeline for Gulf of Mexico lease sales and mandate the sale of leases off the Virginia coast. The bill is expected to easily pass the chamber.

It's the first in a three-bill, offshore oil-and-gas package authored by Hastings that has been fast-tracked by House Republican leadership. Votes on the other two bills are expected next week. They would force the Interior Department to speed up permitting decisions and vastly expand the coastal regions available for leasing. Read more about them here.

The House Rules Committee met Wednesday afternoon to lay out the rules of engagement on the Hastings lease-sale bill that's slated for a vote Thursday. Democrats submitted more than a dozen amendments to the bill. But just two of the amendments will come up for a vote on the floor Thursday.

Next week's debate on the bill to set new deadlines for the Interior Department to consider drilling permit requests will be more freewheeling; it's slated to include votes on a 11 amendments, the Rules Committee said.

They include an amendment by Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) to implement the recommendations of the national oil spill commission.

The Rules Committee rejected an amendment by Rep. James McGovern (D-Mass.) and others to the lease-sale bill that would have eliminated several oil subsidies. But Democrats hope to use a procedural maneuver to force a vote on a proposal to slash one of the tax breaks on the floor Thursday.

The Democratic maneuver is almost certain to fail, but that's not the point. Democrats want Republicans on the record on the issue so they have ammunition in the ongoing fight over gas prices and oil industry profits.

NEWS BITES:

Reid hopes for bipartisan plan to roll back oil industry subsidies

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) – pledging “imminent” action –  circulated a letter in the Senate Wednesday that touts still-forming Democratic proposals to repeal billions of dollars in oil industry tax breaks.

Past efforts have failed but Reid appeared hopeful that the dynamic has changed and cites recent cracks in the GOP armor on the issue.

From the letter: 

In the Senate, we will act imminently to close these loopholes. Given the unprecedented number of lawmakers who have stepped forward in support of this idea for the first time, we believe this new push to end oil subsidies has a strong chance to succeed where previous efforts have failed. We invite ideas from both sides of the aisle about how best to bring these wasteful giveaways to an end. We intend to proceed with a bill that maximizes our chances of garnering bipartisan appeal.

Industry groups attack Pickens-backed, natural-gas vehicles bill

A group of industries that use natural gas are pressing House lawmakers to oppose legislation that provides an array of tax credits to encourage production and use of natural-gas-powered vehicles, especially trucks.

“This bill will distort markets and increase production costs for U.S. manufacturers while creating a new, multi-billion dollar tax subsidy. At a time when Congress is being challenged to get our fiscal house in order, such legislation is highly inappropriate,” states a letter to House Ways and Means Committee members from the American Chemistry Council, the Fertilizer Institute, the Industrial Energy Consumers of America and the American Forest & Paper Association.

The bipartisan NAT GAS Act – sponsored by Reps. John Sullivan (R-Okla.) and Dan Boren (D-Okla.) – has 180 backers and considerable support on both sides of the aisle. It reflects the goals of billionaire oilman T. Boone Pickens.

But the industry groups say it’s not needed.

“Natural gas has many economic and environmental advantages that should lead to market success without generous federal preferences. For example, many companies with large transportation fleets are using natural gas without receiving any tax subsidies because it is the most cost-effective option. American manufacturers, power generators and homeowners are also choosing natural gas,” they write.

White House spokesman says gas prices behind Obama’s poll numbers on economy

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said Wednesday that gas prices are among the reasons that a new poll shows that approval of President Obama’s handling of the economy is at a record low.

“I think that the country is still emerging from the worst recession since the Great Depression. I think that gas prices have weighed heavily on Americans as they try to make ends meet,” Carney said at a briefing.

“And it’s entirely understandable why that sentiment is out there because people are struggling.  And people, in the case of how they’re dealing with these high gas prices, are suffering,” he said.

A CBS/New York Times poll released Wednesday found that just 34 percent of Americans approved of the way Obama was handling the economy, the lowest point since he took office. That figure also reflects a downward slide since mid-February.
 
Wanted: Photos at the pump

 
Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska) is asking his constituents to take pictures of gas prices at their local gas station for an interactive map the senator is putting on his website.  
 
“The rest of the country doesn’t understand what gas prices are like in Alaska, and Congress continues to stall when it comes to passing a real energy plan. So I’m asking Alaskans to help me tell the story,” Begich said in a statement.
 
“No matter what time of year it is, Alaska’s cities pay more for fuel than just about anywhere in the Lower 48 and rural Alaska pays some of the highest costs in the country year-round. It’s time to tackle this problem.”

Markey on GOP energy group's HEAT title: 'Can't make this stuff up'
 
Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.), the ranking Democrat on the House Natural Resources Committee, slammed a new energy coalition formed by House Republicans Wednesday.
 
“Cant make this stuff up. GOP names coalition pushing dirty fuels, increasing global warming pollution ‘HEAT,’” he said in an afternoon tweet.
 
The coalition, known as the House Energy Action Team, will "promote Republican energy policies that will address rising energy prices, create thousands of good jobs and enhance our national security by promoting energy independence for America," according to a statement from Republicans.
 
Erica Elliott, a spokeswoman for House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), a member of the coalition, says HEAT will advocate for a number of Republican energy priorities, including expanding domestic oil-and-gas production, addressing permitting delays related to a wide range of projects including a proposed oil pipeline that will stretch from Canada to Texas, and blocking climate regulations, among other things.
 
Interior delists gray wolves
 
The Interior Department announced Wednesday that it is proposing to remove gray wolves in the western Great Lakes region from the list of endangered species.
 
In addition, it will delist wolves in the Northern Rocky Mountains as part of the fiscal 2011 spending agreement signed into law last month by Obama.
 
“Like other iconic species such as the whooping crane, the brown pelican, and the bald eagle, the recovery of the gray wolf is another success story of the Endangered Species Act,” Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said in a statement Wednesday.
 
“The gray wolf’s biological recovery reflects years of work by scientists, wildlife managers, and our state, tribal, and stakeholder partners to bring wolf populations back to healthy levels.”
 
Oversight of the wolf populations in the Northern Rocky Mountains will be turned over to the relevant state authorities.
 
Amid concerns about the wolves attacking their animals, farmers in the region have been pushing to lift the endangered species protections.
 
Here’s more on the delisting from Reuters.

ON TAP THURSDAY:

Senate energy panel reviews cybersecurity bill

The Energy and Natural Resources Committee will hear from federal officials and other experts at a hearing on draft language to enhance the electricity sector’s cybersecurity. Witnesses are slated to include Patricia Hoffman, who is the Energy Department’s Assistant Secretary for Electricity Delivery & Energy Reliability.

Chu, Vilsack to talk alternative fuels


Energy Secretary Steven Chu and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack will hold a conference call to announce biomass research and development grants for several states.

House energy panel reviews alternative fuels and vehicles

A panel of the House Energy and Commerce Committee will hold a hearing about “Challenges and Opportunities for Alternative Transportation Fuels and Vehicles.”

Witness will include officials from the Energy Information Administration, EPA and the Energy Department, as well as a range of outside experts and industry officials.

Republican Study Committee to unveil gas-price plan


The highly conservative group of House Republicans have scheduled a press conference to “unveil legislation that will provide consumers relief from high gas prices.”

House panel to review EPA mining policies

A panel of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee is slated to take a critical view of EPA restrictions on mountaintop coal mining in Appalachian states.

The hearing is titled "EPA Mining Policies: Assault on Appalachian Jobs - Part I."

Chu, Salazar, Jackson to address tribal summit

Energy Secretary Steven Chu, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar are all slated to address the Energy Department’s Tribal Summit in Arlington, Va.

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT...

Here is a quick roundup of Wednesday's E2 stories:

-House Democrats floated a bill to cut a key oil tax credit.

-The National Taxpayers Union bashed efforts to eliminate the subsidies.

-House Democrats said they plan to force a vote on repealing the tax breaks.

-House Democrats also offered a slew of amendments to GOP drilling bills.

-Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) pressed U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder for a deeper energy price probe.

-House Republicans formed an energy coalition.

-The battle over ethanol in the Senate is heating up.

-New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) won’t answer questions about high gas prices.


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