By Ben Geman - 06/06/12 09:39 PM EDT
“The core of what it does is produce more domestic energy,” House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said Wednesday on CNBC.
The Domestic Energy and Jobs Act is a 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.
“If House Republicans were serious about jobs, they’d cancel next week’s recess and pass the construction jobs bill,” he said.
The package is unlikely to gain traction in the Senate, but will provide Republicans another platform to criticize White House energy policies.
Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.), sponsor of the plan to delay rules including fuel and refinery emissions standards and ozone regulations, called his proposal a “common-sense bill.”
“All we are doing with this legislation is, before [the rules are] implemented, let’s examine and explore the cost and what would be the impact on fuel in America,” Whitfield said.
“We are very fortunate fuel prices have been coming down, but this is a further step to make sure that we do not allow government regulations to increase fuel costs again.”
The 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.
Republicans signaled that they intend to use the energy package to keep focus on the tepid job growth 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,” stated a GOP summary of the energy 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, despite the recent slide.
“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 also 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 of a hotel room in North Dakota.
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 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.
A GOP aide said the package would likely come to the floor by the end of June.
The package includes:
• legislation to require that any drawdown 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 a new 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.