House GOP takes aim at pump prices

House GOP leaders, aiming to translate rising pump prices into political momentum, ramped up claims Thursday that White House energy policies are harming consumers and vowed to focus heavily on energy in coming weeks.

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) announced the “American Energy Initiative” alongside other top Republicans at a press conference that previewed the GOP’s legislative strategy. Boehner vowed to move legislation in "bite-sized chunks" rather than try to push a single, broad bill.

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“As gas prices go up, the cost of everyday life goes up. It costs more to drive to work, it costs more to buy groceries, or just to get the kids to school,” Boehner said in the Capitol, flanked by the heads of committees that oversee energy policy.

“At a time when our economy is already in a position when it is not creating enough jobs, rising gas prices hurt the very people that we need to lead us out of our economic crisis, and that’s small businesses,” he added.

The effort comes as gasoline prices have shot to the top of the political agenda.

Average prices are $3.53 per gallon, compared to $3.12 a month ago, according to AAA. The Energy Department’s statistical arm estimated Tuesday there’s a 25 percent chance that average prices will top $4 per gallon this summer.

Republicans are calling for faster permitting of oil-and-gas drilling projects offshore and wider access for the industry both onshore and in federal waters.

They have criticized the Obama administration for not acting faster in the resumption of permitting for deepwater drilling projects that were halted after last summer's BP oil spill, among other policies they call too restrictive.

Boehner said the administration has “consistently blocked” domestic energy production.

On electricity, House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) is also pushing for more streamlined permitting to help the nuclear power industry build the first new reactors in decades.

Republicans are also advancing legislation to block federal climate-change regulations, saying they will raise energy costs for consumers and businesses.

Boehner — confirming prior comments by Upton and House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings (R-Wash.) — said Republicans will steer clear of mimicking past Democratic efforts to advance sweeping, comprehensive energy legislation.

“I would rather deal with this in what I’ll call bite-sized chunks,” Boehner said, and previewed some measures he might try to move through the chamber.

“Why wouldn’t we have a bill to encourage vehicles to use natural gas, and do it by itself? Why wouldn’t we have a bill that would encourage more oil-and-gas exploration where the royalties would go to support more green energy development?,” he asked.

“Why wouldn’t we do that by itself? Why wouldn’t we do a nuclear energy bill, as an example, by itself? I think it is a more logical and thoughtful way to deal with these issues,” Boehner said.

Upton said one major focus will be faster permitting for various types of projects, noting, for example, that Shell Oil has been unable to win federal permission thus far to drill exploratory wells in Arctic waters off Alaska's northern coast.

“I look forward to working in our committee, with Doc Hastings's committee, to see what we can do to streamline the permitting process to in fact increase the supply, so that we can put downward pressure on those prices that are impacting every business, farm and household across the country,” Upton said.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) told reporters that legislation to block EPA greenhouse gas rules — which an Energy and Commerce subcommittee approved Thursday — is expected on the floor within weeks.

But beyond that, Republicans have not offered anything specific on floor timing or on the progression of bills.

The plan is drawing quick pushback from top Democrats, who say the GOP's heavy focus on domestic oil-and-gas drilling won't help address rising energy prices.

“Their plan is not an all-of-the-above strategy, it is an oil-above-all strategy,” said Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), the top Democrat on the Natural Resources Committee, poking fun at the common GOP claim that the party supports an increase in all forms of energy production.

Markey and some other Democrats are pushing the White House to release oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, an idea that Upton and other Republicans have criticized.

—Andrew Restuccia contributed

This post was updated at 1:32 p.m. and 2:53 p.m.