House votes to replace Obama administration's offshore drilling plan

The House passed a bill Wednesday replacing President Obama's offshore drilling plan, a move that largely serves as a platform for Republicans to launch attacks at the administration's energy policies.

The GOP-backed efforts will likely go nowhere in the Democrat-controlled Senate. On top of that, the administration plan does not require congressional approval.

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One House bill (H.R. 6082) would expand the amount of offshore oil and gas lease sales to 28 for 2012 through 2017, up from Obama's 15. That bill opens more Atlantic and Pacific coastal regions to exploration, whereas the administration plan prohibits activity in those regions. The bill also would expedite lease sales in Arctic waters near Alaska.

A Republican-led vote passed the bill, 253-170. Twenty-five Democrats crossed the aisle to vote aye with 228 Republicans.

The House also shot down Obama's plan in the form of a bill (H.R. 6168), which presented another chance for Republicans to show disapproval of the president's policy.

House leadership decided to add that bill to the docket late Tuesday and considered it under the suspension of the rules, which would have required a two-thirds vote for passage. In the Republican-dominated House, the bill still would not have passed with a simple majority. The House rejected it by a 164-261 vote.

The Obama plan faces a 60-day congressional review before implementation. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar will sign the plan as soon as the review period ends.

Environmental concerns have played a significant role in Obama's offshore drilling plan. He revised it following the explosion of BP's Deepwater Horizon drilling rig in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010.

Both the Republican and the Obama plans continue restrictions that keep much of the eastern Gulf of Mexico off-limits to drilling.

Democrats portrayed the votes as political stunts.

"The only reason the majority is bringing up this bill is to defeat it," Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) said just before the vote that rejected the Obama plan.

Markey has repeatedly called out Republicans for putting forth other offshore drilling bills that stood little chance of success in the Senate. He and other Democrats have said oil and gas interests strongly factor into GOP efforts on offshore drilling legislation.

Republicans have consistently criticized Obama for what they see as a negative stance toward the oil and gas industries. They say eschewing green jobs initiatives in favor of ones that tap cheaper fossil fuel sources could bolster the economy.

Democrats and the administration note Obama's offshore drilling plan still makes 75 percent of recoverable offshore resources available for exploration. They also say the Obama plan is necessary to ensure environmental protections against drilling activities.

Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah) told The Hill on Wednesday that the administration is making political, rather than geological, considerations about what it will open to offshore drilling.

Obama has tried to appease environmentalists in recent months after activists had felt marginalized following his election. Obama delayed a final decision on the Keystone XL oil sands pipelines in part because of pressure from environmentalists who worried about contaminating a large aquifer most located in Nebraska.

"It would appear to me that they are playing off special interest groups at the expense of trying to come up with a long-term energy program that does all of the above," Bishop said.

Republicans dispute the administration's estimates and say the Obama plan closes 85 percent of offshore areas to oil and gas drilling.

Rep. Jeff Landry (R-La.) told The Hill on Wednesday that the administration does not know for certain that the offshore regions the plan would close lack oil or gas. 

"If we listened to that, we never would have found oil and natural gas that we found today," Landry said. "Do you believe the government every time it tells you something?"