The House on Thursday evening passed a bill that seeks to encourage oil shale development, drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), and offshore drilling in the Atlantic, Pacific and the Gulf of Mexico, as well as force approval of the Keystone XL oil sands pipeline.
The House approved the bill on a party line vote of 237-187. Despite Democratic objections to the bill throughout the week, 21 Democrats joined the GOP majority in the final vote, offsetting the 21 Republicans who voted against it.
But Democrats spent the week arguing that the bill would not create the revenues Republicans hoped, and would lead to environmental damage. Democrats seized on the oil shale language in particular by arguing that even energy companies believe significant oil shale production is decades away.
"What they do is, they bring out proposals here that try to build real highways with fake oil revenues that are never going to materialize," Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) said in Wednesday's debate. "So rather than working here in the real world, where the real transportation needs of our country are dealt with real revenues that are coming in, they talk about oil shale, which Shell [Oil Co.] says is at least another 10 years away."
Rep. Doc Hastings (R-Wash.) rejected this, and said some estimates suggest oil shale resources in the Rocky Mountains alone could provide the U.S. with energy for the next two centuries. Republicans also argued that Democrats would rather pay for highway spending with borrowed money.
"They wish to fund transportation programs the old fashioned way, which means we spend money we don't have," Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah) said. "What we're trying to do with this particular bill is go outside of the box and find a way to actually pay for infrastructure improvements, a way to pay for our transportation needs, and to do it with energy development."
Language requiring the Keystone permit remains a point of contention for Democrats, but the House on Wednesday night rejected several amendments aimed at mitigating that GOP language.
One key amendment that did get attached to the bill Wednesday would increase the revenue sharing that Gulf states would get for oil and gas leasing, from $500 million a year to $750 million a year starting in 2023. Members also accepted language that would let states use that money for wetlands conservation.
Earlier today, members voted to require that 80 percent of the fines that BP pays for the Deepwater Horizon oil spill would be directed to a Gulf Coast restoration fund.
House passage of the bill sends it to a Senate that, as usual, will oppose it and likely ignore it altogether. Senate Democrats are pursuing their own transportation authorization bill, which would spend $109 billion over two years and raises the money without expanding U.S. energy development.
The House transportation bill, H.R. 7, is expected to be considered after members return from their President's Day break next week.