House passes bill tying oil reserve sales to federal leasing

Republican measure faces veto threat and a Democratic Senate

"This bill is about restoring America’s energy security,” said its sponsor, House Energy and Commerce Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
"This bill is about restoring America’s energy security,” said its sponsor, House Energy and Commerce Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted January 27, 2023 at 2:11pm

After two days of debate on 78 amendments, the House on Friday passed by a vote of 221-205 a bill that would tie nonemergency use of the petroleum reserve to plans for increased fossil fuel development on public lands, but the measure is unlikely to become law.

The bill introduced by Energy and Commerce Chairwoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., would require that for each percentage point of crude oil taken from the strategic petroleum reserve, the Energy Department must develop a plan to increase production by an equal percentage.

The bill stands little chance of passage in the Senate, and the Biden administration has already promised to veto the legislation. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm criticized the bill in a letter to congressional leaders and at a White House press conference, and said it “would significantly weaken this critical energy security tool.”

By bringing the bill to the House floor, Republicans gave themselves an opportunity to criticize the administration's energy policies and force Democratic lawmakers to record votes regarding those policies.

[House GOP aims to tie oil reserve sales to public land drilling]

Last year the Biden administration conducted an emergency sale in response to volatility in the energy market spurred in large part by the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The Treasury Department estimated that this move helped reduce gas prices by 40 cents per gallon nationally. As Congress voted, the average price per gallon stood at $3.51, according to AAA, down from a record of just over $5 per gallon last June.

Republicans criticized the sale, arguing that the administration should instead have focused on increasing domestic energy production. And while the administration has initiated a plan to refill the reserve, Rodgers said the drawdown of more than 200 million barrels in the past two years “has undermined our nation’s ability to respond to true energy emergencies.”

"This bill is about restoring America’s energy security,” said Rodgers. “It provides a path towards making energy more affordable for Americans, who are looking to us to help ease the pain at the pump.”

House Energy and Commerce ranking member Frank Pallone Jr., D-N.J., said the bill amounts to nothing more than a limit on how the Energy Department can utilize the SPR until “Big Oil” receives more leases to drill on federal land.

Prior to 2022, there were only three emergency releases from the SPR. The Energy Department also oversees exchanges, which are structured like short-term loans, and mandated sales that are set by Congress.

“Republicans are just upset that President Biden stood up and actually used all the tools at his disposal to fight back against high gas prices for American families,” Pallone said on the House floor.

The House ultimately adopted 12 amendments over the two-day debate, out of 147 introduced.

Democrats introduced the vast majority of the amendments, but saw only two of them adopted, both from Rep. Josh Gottheimer, D-N.J. The first, adopted by a vote of 419-13, would prohibit sales from the SPR to entities owned or controlled by China, North Korea, Russia, Iran or any other nation under U.S. sanctions. The second would require the Energy secretary to ensure that a drawdown doesn’t result in the sale of petroleum products to Iran, China, North Korea, or Russia. It was adopted 418-12.

Republican amendments

An amendment from Rep. Lauren Boebert, R-Colo., increased the allowable percentage of federal lands for oil and gas leasing under the plan from 10 to 15 percent, which was adopted by a vote of 220-212. Boebert also successfully inserted language that required the Energy secretary to identify areas within the Thompson Divide area of Colorado to lease. Last year the administration proposed withdrawing the lands from mineral leasing for 20 years.

Many of the amendments focused on offshore leasing.

Rep Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., introduced an amendment, adopted by voice vote, that would ensure the bill did not affect a memorandum signed by President Donald Trump in September 2020 that maintains a 10-year prohibition on oil and gas leasing off the coasts of Florida, Georgia and South Carolina.

Reps. Nancy Mace, R-S.C., and Nick LaLota, R-N.Y., successfully sponsored separate amendments that would specify the bill also does not affect restrictions on oil and gas leasing off the south and north Atlantic coasts, respectively. Mace’s was adopted by a vote of 389-42 while LaLota’s was adopted by voice vote.

Democrats attempted to use the amendment process to prohibit areas off the coast of their home states from being considered for oil and gas leasing under the plan, but their proposals were shot down in largely party-line votes. Republicans dismissed these amendments, arguing that they went beyond the status quo set under existing law and created barriers to future development.

Democratic members, many of whom used their time to challenge the Republican assertion that there was a need for greater federal leasing, also attempted to place restrictions on the plan, such as requiring the Energy Department to guarantee it would not impact the administration’s climate goals or affect the ability to lease federal land for renewable energy.

While eight of the 12 amendments adopted were by voice vote, Democrats largely requested that their amendments be given a recorded vote.

Mace and Gottheimer were able to get large cross-party support for their amendments, but many of the recorded votes fell along party lines with only a handful of members defecting to either side.

Only once did a majority of one party oppose an effort from its own side, when Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., introduced an amendment that would have removed an exemption in the bill allowing drawdowns from the SPR prior to the development of an oil and gas leasing plan in the case of a severe energy supply interruption. The amendment was rejected 14-418.

Greene ultimately had two amendments adopted by voice vote on the second day of debate: one that would make the bill retroactive to the beginning of the Biden administration and another that would specify the bill does not allow SPR drawdowns for political purposes.

The legislation is one of the “ready-to-go” bills that Majority Leader Steve Scalise, R-La., announced House Republicans would prioritize upon taking the majority. Senate Energy and Natural Resources ranking member John Barrasso, R-Wyo., introduced a similar bill earlier this week.

[House passes bill limiting oil reserve sales to China]

The House passed another bill from Rodgers on Jan. 12 that 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. Barrasso has also released draft legislation for this bill in the Senate.