House panel approves energy bills amid war over gas prices

Republicans on the committee’s Energy and Power panel approved the Gasoline Regulations Act in a 15-8 party line vote Tuesday.

The bill would prevent the Environmental Protection Agency from finalizing key air pollution regulations until a Cabinet-level commission analyzes the regulations’ potential impacts on gasoline prices.

The committee passed an amendment to the bill offered by Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) that would require an analysis of all EPA regulations and executive orders related to natural gas.

The amendment targets upcoming EPA regulations that would cut smog-forming and toxic emissions from wells developed with the natural-gas drilling technique known as hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking.” It also takes aim at an executive order signed by Obama last week to coordinate federal oversight of natural-gas development.

Committee Republicans later approved the Strategic Energy Production Act in a 9-7 party line vote. The legislation would expand oil-and-gas exploration, production and leasing on federal lands if the president releases oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR), a 696-million-barrel emergency oil stockpile.

The White House has said that tapping the SPR is “on the table,” but officials have stressed that no final decisions have been made. Republicans have argued that there is no reason to tap the reserve, as it is meant to address oil supply disruptions.

Energy experts say there is little federal policymakers can do to lower gasoline prices, as they are tethered to oil prices, which are set on world markets. Even a dramatic expansion of domestic oil-and-gas leasing would have little effect on prices, they say.