House GOP renews attack on Obama’s drilling policies

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Committee Chairman Doc Hastings (R-Wash.) said Obama’s offshore leasing plans would “effectively reimpose” drilling limits from 2008, when gas prices topped $4 per gallon. 

“President Obama and his administration have deliberately reversed course to put the brakes on new American energy production and job creation,” Hastings said.

Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.), the panel’s ranking Democrat, decried the bill as a partisan stunt. He noted the committee has already sent five drilling bills to the House floor that were “all far too extreme to pass the Senate, and not a single one has been signed into law.”

The bill approved Wednesday would mandate 28 lease sales from 2012 to 2017, an increase over the 15 that the Obama administration has planned.

The 15 lease sales in Obama’s plan are the lowest offered since that process began in 1980, according to a Congressional Research Service report released this week. However, former Presidents Clinton and George W. Bush each went through five-year periods of offering 16 lease sales.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar will sign Obama’s leasing plan as soon as it hits his desk following a 60-day congressional review, an Interior Department official told The Hill. 

Republicans say that plan closes 85 percent of available offshore lands to drilling at a time when the American people are clamoring for cheaper energy.

“Presidents before him were committed to offshore energy production,” said Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.), of Obama. “If his plan is allowed to be made final, future presidents will be hamstrung.”

Rep. Paul Tonko (D-N.Y.) disputed the GOP’s figure on drilling lands, noting it is based solely on acreage. He contended that Obama’s plan still permits lease sales for 75 percent of offshore oil-and-gas resources.

Tonko accused his colleagues of doing the bidding of oil-and-gas companies, and floated an amendment requiring bidders to submit a list of campaign contributions for the five years up to the lease application date. That plan was rejected.

Salazar also hit the acreage argument Wednesday, saying the Obama plan “focuses on the areas that contain the overwhelming majority of the resources rather than simply opening areas for the sake of achieving an imaginary acreage threshold.”

Obama revised his original offshore drilling plan after the 2010 BP oil spill in the eastern Gulf of Mexico. 

The Deepwater Horizon disaster colored some of the administration’s comments about the revised leasing plan it released in final form last month. Interior Department officials defended the plan with words such as “responsible” and “cautious” while noting environmental concerns in the Arctic.

Rep. John Garamendi (D-Calif.) accused Republicans of “playing politics” with the leasing bill.

“This bill would require an environmental statement that is essentially worthless,” he said.

But Republicans said drillers have learned the lessons of the Deepwater Horizon spill, and said Obama’s plans would restrict the options of states looking to revive their economies.

“We have lost the respect for the sovereignty of the states,” said Rep. Jeff Landry (R-La.). “If those states want to drill off their coast, then they should have the right to do so.”