House approves bill tweaking Obama on use of Strategic Petroleum Reserve

The House passed legislation Thursday that would require decisions to use oil in the Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR) to be matched by a decision to expand domestic oil leasing, and would also require the Obama administration to assess how environmental rules affect gas prices.

Members approved the Domestic Energy and Jobs Act, H.R. 4480, in a 248-163 vote Thursday afternoon. The GOP bill was supported by 19 Democrats, similar to the level of Democratic support on other Republican energy bills.

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The Obama administration has previously floated the idea of using the SPR to boost supply and lower oil prices. But that has been met with fierce criticism from Republicans, who argue the plan reveals that President Obama does believe that increased supply would lower prices. Based on this logic, Republicans argue, Obama should also be in favor of increasing domestic oil production.

Aside from linking the use of oil reserves to more domestic energy production, the bill also more broadly seeks to speed up the oil drilling permitting process. Republicans argued during the debate that expanding access to oil resources would not just help U.S. energy security, but would also help create jobs.

"The oil and gas industry is the lifeblood of so many communities across our nation," House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) said. "But this president's policies have stifled the development of many of our nation's energy resources.

"Increasing energy production on our nation's public lands and waters can create millions of jobs, boost the economy, lower energy costs and make America more secure."

Democrats largely opposed the bill, and called it another gift Republicans were trying to give to oil companies.

"Today's bill is one more massive giveaway, and it is one more massive assault on the environment," House Energy and Commerce Committee ranking member Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) said.

In addition to the oil-and-gas leasing provisions, the bill block EPA from completing a trio of air pollution rules until a new interagency committee studies the cumulative effects of an array of EPA policies on fuel prices and the economy.

The Democratic opposition was backed by a threat from Obama to veto the legislation.

The White House argued that the bill would "impede the process on important protections for the health of American families," and rejected the idea of linking the SPR to mandating an expansion of onshore oil-and-gas leasing.

"Linking a drawdown of the SPR with the leasing of Federal lands for energy production is entirely without rational basis, either temporally, spatially, or in terms of the Nation's energy needs," the White House wrote.

Republicans allowed consideration of several Democratic amendments to the bill, but accepted just two minor ones, including language that would establish an Office of Energy Employment and Training and an Office of Minority and Women in the Department of the Interior.

The House also approved an amendment that would boost Gulf state oil sharing revenues by $8 billion over a 32-year period, which would benefit Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas. That language would amend a 2006 agreement that allowed these states to share offshore oil revenue, and is the second time the House has approved this language.

House passage sends the bill to a Senate that is likely to once again ignore the bill. On Wednesday, House Democrats said the GOP energy plan is not the best way to create jobs, and argued that Congress should be focusing on the highway bill and legislation keeping student loan interest rates low, an argument that will likely resonate with Senate Democrats in the coming weeks.