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House passes bill limiting oil reserve sales to China

Vote comes two days after House adopts resolution to create select China-focused committee

House Energy and Commerce Chairwoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers introduced the measure to prohibit the sale of any petroleum products from the SPR to “any entity that is under the ownership, control, or influence of the Chinese Communist Party.”
House Energy and Commerce Chairwoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers introduced the measure to prohibit the sale of any petroleum products from the SPR to “any entity that is under the ownership, control, or influence of the Chinese Communist Party.” (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Corrected Jan. 23 | The House on Thursday passed legislation that would limit sales of crude oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to entities affiliated with the Chinese government.

The bill passed 331-97 with the support of all Republicans and 113 Democrats. Introduced by House Energy and Commerce Chairwoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., it would prohibit the sale of any petroleum products from the SPR to “any entity that is under the ownership, control, or influence of the Chinese Communist Party.” It would also require the Energy Department to guarantee as a condition of sale that crude oil not be exported to China.

Last year the Biden administration ordered emergency drawdowns of the SPR in response to rising energy prices and the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Republicans, who also had broader criticisms of the move, raised objections to the sale of nearly 1 million barrels of oil to Unipec America, a Houston-based subsidiary of the Chinese state-owned firm Sinopec.

Under current law, the federal government is prohibited from directing where companies export oil they purchase. While some of the crude oil was exported to China, purchases from other companies, including U.S. oil refiner Phillips 66, were exported to Italy, the Netherlands and India.

President Donald Trump and other administrations have also sold crude oil from the SPR to Chinese firms.

Prior to the vote, Rodgers said the SPR should be reserved for energy supply chain disruptions, such as hurricanes, and that China was the ultimate beneficiary of the sales.

“China now controls the world’s largest government-controlled stockpile of oil with almost a billion barrels at the expense of American taxpayers and our energy security,” said Rodgers.

House Energy and Commerce ranking member Frank Pallone Jr., D-N.J., said the Republicans created the issue in 2015 when they lifted the ban on crude oil exports, a move he opposed.

“As a result, our crude oil exports to China surged, averaging a half million barrels every day during the last year of the Trump administration,” Pallone said. “China hoarded these barrels to build up its own petroleum reserves.”

He said the bill could have garnered broader support if it was considered through regular order and extended prohibitions on sales to Russia, Iran, North Korea and other nations under U.S. sanctions, citing bipartisan support for a bill introduced by Reps. Chrissy Houlahan, D-Pa., and Don Bacon, R-Neb., last Congress which included these provisions.

The bill was one of a number of “ready to go” bills Majority Leader Steve Scalise, R-La., said would “provide an indication of our bold agenda to come.” A second bill introduced by Rodgers is also expected to be considered by the House; it would require that the federal government approve a plan to increase drilling on public lands prior to any nonemergency drawdown of the SPR.

Republican leaders have said they will use their House majority to address the threat posed by China. The vote came two days after the House adopted a resolution that established the Select Committee on Strategic Competition between the United States and the Chinese Communist Party, which will have the authority to conduct investigations and submit policy recommendations.

This report was corrected to specify that the bill that would limit drawdowns from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve applies only to nonemergency sales.

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