House preparing to pass energy bills after Easter recess

House Republicans next week will start work on three bills aimed at breaking what they say is a de facto ban on new energy exploration within U.S. territory that the Obama administration put in place after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill last year.

The effort comes amid growing criticism from Republicans that expanded oil and gas exploration is needed to reverse steadily rising gasoline prices, and that Obama has been non-responsive to these price increases.

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On Tuesday, the office of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) released a statement saying gas prices are "placing additional strain on budgets for families and job creators, making it harder for business owners to grow and create new jobs." It added that while the administration is promoting "backward energy policies," House Republicans "in the coming weeks" will pursue the three energy bills, all of which the House Natural Resources Committee marked up in mid-April.

Staff for that committee say they expect at least one of the bills to come up next week. All three bills — H.R. 1229, 1230 and 1231 — were introduced by Committee Chairman Doc Hastings (R-Wash.).

The Obama administration had its own reaction to rising gas prices on Tuesday. Obama sent a letter to congressional leaders asking them to eliminate "unwarranted tax breaks for the oil and gas industry, and to use these dollars to invest in clean energy to reduce our dependence on foreign oil." 

But that request is likely to go unheeded in the House, as Republicans have argued that rising energy prices reflect a supply problem.

H.R. 1229, the "Putting the Gulf of Mexico Back to Work Act," would seek to improve the safety of offshore drilling, and would also require the secretary of Interior to act on Gulf drilling permit applications within 30 days. That requirement is aimed at preventing the department from sitting on applications without making a decision.

The bill would also require Interior to restart permits in the Gulf of Mexico that were approved before the May 2010 moratorium on drilling was put in place.

H.R. 1230, the "Restarting American Offshore Leasing Now Act," would require the administration to conduct offshore lease sales in the Gulf of Mexico and near Virginia. Republicans note that 2011 will be the first year without an offshore lease sale, and that lease sales proposed under a Bush administration plan are needed to help ensure increased energy production.

H.R. 1231, the "Reversing President Obama's Offshore Moratorium Act," would lift Obama's ban on offshore drilling and require the administration to establish a five-year offshore lease plan in productive areas with the goal of producing three million barrels of oil a day by 2027.