House GOP to unveil domestic energy plan

House Republicans will unveil a sweeping energy package Wednesday that’s headed for the floor in the coming weeks, signaling that they hope to remain on the political offensive even as gasoline prices have been sliding.

“The core of what it does is produce more domestic energy,” said House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), touting the plan on CNBC Wednesday morning.

The Domestic Energy and Jobs Act will be an umbrella package of seven existing bills aimed at speeding up and expanding onshore oil-and-gas projects and delaying certain Environmental Protection Agency rules, among other provisions.

A GOP aide said the package would likely come to the floor by the end of June. 

The plan includes:

• Legislation to require that any draw-down from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve be paired with an expansion of oil-and-gas leasing on federal lands;

• A plan to delay several EPA air pollution rules while an inter-agency panel reviews their effect on fuel prices and jobs; 

• A measure that sets a floor on the amount of federal onshore acreage that must be leased for drilling, ensures exemptions from in-depth environmental review for many projects, and limits the Interior Department’s ability to withdraw or cancel leases; and, among other elements,

• A separate bill setting new deadlines for onshore drilling permits and setting new limits on judicial review of energy projects.

The plan is unlikely to gain traction in the Senate, but will provide Republicans another platform to criticize White House energy policies.

House GOP leaders are expected to roll out the plan at a press conference Wednesday afternoon. Their latest offensive comes as gasoline prices have been dropping, a welcome political development for the White House.

Prices vary greatly by region, but the average nationwide price is $3.57 per gallon, according to AAA, down 20 cents from a month ago. Average prices neared $4 per gallon earlier in the year.

But Republicans have signaled that they will cast the plan as a way to help boost tepid job growth, which will also enable them to keep the political spotlight on a struggling economy that looms as a major political threat to President Obama’s reelection.

“May’s abysmal employment report should be a wake-up call to the president and Senate Democrats,” states a GOP summary of the plan. The economy added an estimated 69,000 jobs in May, a result much worse than expected.

Republicans also hope to continue highlighting gasoline prices even though they have fallen.

“This legislation has the potential to spur the economic growth that will create hundreds of thousands of new jobs and bring down gas prices from the ‘new normal’ of $3.50 per gallon,” the GOP memo states.

McCarthy, speaking on CNBC, recounted his trip last month to North Dakota, where oil production is booming.

“They have economic growth and investments,” he said. “We want to see that happen across America.”

(McCarthy noted another effect of the boom: big-city hotel prices arriving in the heartland. “I paid more than $200 a night at a Best Western,” he said.)

But the White House in recent months has worked aggressively to parry claims that the administration is thwarting domestic development.

White House aides and other administration officials point to the fact that U.S. oil-and-gas production has been on the rise under President Obama while reliance on imports is dropping.

“Anyone who is out there saying that we are somehow stopping oil-and-gas production is simply wrong. They are living in this world of fairy tales, not the world of reality,” said Interior Secretary Ken Salazar on Tuesday at an energy forum at George Washington University.

Administration critics counter that the rise is occurring in spite of White House policies, noting a dip in production from federal leases last year, arguing that the United States should be seeking to foster even more aggressive industry development.

In fiscal 2011, sales of crude oil (a rough proxy for production) from federal waters dipped after rising in 2009 and 2010, according to the federal Energy Information Administration, but that reflects the slowdown that followed the BP disaster. Onshore oil production has been rising.

Overall U.S. natural-gas production is booming, although the data also show dips in federal areas as industry development has focused on shale plays on state and private lands.

While Republicans cast their plans as a way to help boost the economy, many Democrats have decried House GOP efforts over the past year to delay or scuttle pollution regulations.

“The House of Representatives has become the most anti-environmental House in the history of our nation,” said Rep. Henry Waxman (Calif.), the top Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, at a Wednesday event hosted by The National Journal.