We can create jobs, lower pump prices

There has been a nice surprise waiting for drivers at the pump over the past few months — lower gasoline prices. Last week, in my hometown of Ennis, Texas, I paid $1.79 for a gallon of gas, something I haven’t done since 2008. In fact, it is estimated that the average American driver will save $550 this year thanks to cheaper gasoline. This drastic change is due in large part to revolutionary technologies in the oil field. Hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling have invigorated domestic energy production, cutting our imports and freeing up additional supply in the global market.

We are producing more oil than ever before but are unable to ship crude oil abroad due to an outdated law known as the Energy Policy and Conservation Act of 1975 (EPCA), which includes a ban on exports of crude oil. In order to keep our energy sector thriving, I introduced legislation, H.R. 702, to lift this ban, and I am calling on my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to look at the facts and join me in this fight.

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Far too often, Congress is reactionary, and many of the bills we pass are representative of American society at the time. When the EPCA was enacted, 65 percent of U.S. energy consumption relied on imports from OPEC. With the Arab oil embargo of 1973-1974, we found ourselves in a terrible bind. I was just out of college and working my first full-time job. I was allotted a certain amount of gas and could only pick it up on a certain day. The sudden shock to gasoline prices was so jarring that Congress enacted the ban on crude oil exports. It’s debatable if it made sense then, but it definitely doesn’t make sense now. New technology has changed everything. In December, the U.S. surpassed Saudi Arabia as the world’s largest oil producer. Our oil reserves are at their highest point since the 1970s and growing every month.

American energy production is at a defining juncture. With current prices hovering around $50 a barrel, we cannot continue to cede market share to OPEC. With the outdated oil export ban in place, domestic oil producers are not allowed to compete in the global market and, as a result, are forced to accept a lower price for their product. The export ban is not only unfair, it negatively impacts our economy and jeopardizes our energy security. Oil is the only major commodity that is not allowed to be sold to any willing buyer.

A recent report from the Council on Foreign Relations recommends lifting the ban on all energy exports, predicting an uptick in U.S. energy investment and production as a result. Other studies say it would lower prices at the pump and support up to 964,000 new jobs. Maintaining the ban, however, would “cost America 1.5 million jobs and $220 billion of lost annual economic output by 2018,” according to a letter from the Energy Equipment and Infrastructure Alliance to House and Senate leaders. Such an economic burden cannot be sustained.

Removing this ban also fits in with our country’s long tradition of promoting open trade, combating resource nationalism and encouraging free markets. The ban on crude oil exports stands ideologically opposed to these policies. It is time to practice what we preach and support free market ideals at home.

Allowing domestic oil exports would also have international repercussions. Professors at the Bush School of Government and Public Service, which is part of my alma mater, Texas A&M, recently wrote that lifting the crude oil ban “would create a more shock-resistant world economy” and “reassure our allies worldwide.” This could ultimately limit the influence of so called “bad actors” like Russia and Iran.

H.R. 702 is already gaining support. I have 12 original co-sponsors in the House and have had positive conversations with my colleagues in the Senate about introducing similar legislation.

But this isn’t just a Republican idea. Pressure is growing from both ends of the political spectrum. A former top economic aide to President Obama, Larry Summers, has echoed facts showing that lifting the ban will create jobs, increase energy investment and reduce gas prices.

I predict that no matter which party controls Capitol Hill or the White House, the ban will eventually be lifted — but the sooner it happens, the sooner we will see the benefits.

Barton has represented Texas’ 6th Congressional District since 1985. He sits on the Energy and Commerce Committee.