House passes bill aimed at restricting presidential releases of reserve oil
The House on Thursday passed legislation intended to restrict the president’s ability to release oil from the country’s emergency supply — a bill aimed squarely at President Biden for his handling of rising gasoline prices last year.
The bill passed in a largely partisan 221-205 vote. Rep. Jared Golden (Maine) was the only Democrat who voted with every Republican in favor of the bill.
The legislation requires the federal government to develop a plan to increase the percentage of federal lands leased for new oil and gas production if it wants to withdraw oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR).
It contains an exception for “severe energy supply interruptions.”
Leasing is an early step in the lengthy process of setting up new oil exploration on public lands and waters. It takes an average of more than four years for leased lands to turn into additional oil.
The legislation is unlikely to make its way past the Democratic-led Senate, and the Biden administration has also said that the president would veto the bill.
But the measure still carries symbolism as one of the first two energy bills passed by Republicans with their new majority — both related to the SPR.
House Republicans brought the bill to the floor under a modified-open rule, which allows lawmakers to submit, debate and vote on amendments to legislation. It was the first time in seven years that a measure was considered under the process. In prior years, legislation was considered under either structured or closed rules, which limited the number of amendments that could come under consideration.
Lawmakers submitted more than 140 amendments, a number of which were debated on the House floor. Some were taken out of consideration because they were not germane, but debate still spanned two days and ran for hours. Members had to submit the proposed changes at least the day before the bill came to the floor.
Many of the proposed changes related to partisan issues, including Democratic efforts related to environmental considerations that were rejected. Others, including an amendment seeking to prevent sales from the SPR from going to Iran, China, North Korea or Russia, were added in a bipartisan manner.
The legislation — and Biden’s past use of the SPR — also became the centerpiece for a war of words this week between Democrats and Republicans.
Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Biden announced the largest-ever release of the reserve’s oil in an attempt to bring down then-skyrocketing gasoline prices.
Republicans criticized the move, saying he was using the emergency supply tool to solve a political quandary. Meanwhile, Biden and his allies contend it was a legitimate use of the SPR to counteract supply uncertainties caused by Russia and point to past SPR use by administrations of both parties.
A Treasury Department analysis found Biden’s use of the SPR, as well as coordinated releases from other countries, would have saved consumers between 17 cents to 42 cents at the pump if companies passed through the full value of the savings.
In the run up to the bill’s passage, Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm argued it would make it harder to use the SPR during a tenuous situation and said it could ultimately lead to higher gasoline prices during moments when SPR releases are needed.
In a new statement following the bill’s passage on Friday, White House spokesperson Abdullah Hasan likewise described the bill as “plans to increase gas prices for American families in times of crisis.”
“Companies clearly have everything they need – record profits and thousands of approved permits – to increase production. The only thing getting in the way is their own decision to keep plowing windfall profits into the pockets of executives and shareholders instead of using them to boost supply,” he said.
“It is incomprehensible that, on the very day another oil company posts yet another round of record profits, House Republicans are moving forward with their plans to increase gas prices for American families in times of crisis all so that Big Oil can continue to rake in record profits,” he added, referring to record 2022 profits announced by Chevron.
But House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairwoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) has noted the exception for severe disruptions, and said Republicans were looking to provide “durable, long-lasting relief at the pump.”
Separately from its SPR policy, the Biden administration also implemented a pause on new oil and gas leasing.
It has since begun holding lease sales again, which were required as part of the Democrats climate, tax and health care legislation passed last year.
The legislation that passed the House on Thursday was also met with some criticism from energy analysts.
“It seeks to control or tie the U.S. abilities to respond in case of a strategic disruption to something that will not have a guaranteed effect on future production,” Patrick De Haan, head of petroleum analysis at GasBuddy, told The Hill.
“It’s basically putting politics over people because it’s hampering the hands of a future administration from responding strategically unless another action happens,” he added.
Updated at 5:20 p.m.
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