May 5 (Bloomberg) -- The Republican-led U.S. House passed legislation that would give the Obama administration deadlines to sell offshore oil leases, a bid to limit a surge in oil prices and cut the nation’s dependence on imported fuel.
The bill sponsored by House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings, a Washington Republican, would give the Interior Department four months to auction central Gulf of Mexico leases and a year for leases off the Virginia coast. The vote was 266-149, with 33 Democrats joining Republicans.
The measure is a part of the House Republican plan to boost U.S. offshore oil output 76 percent by 2027 and coincides with a 37 percent jump in gasoline prices in the past 12 months. The Senate hasn’t considered a similar bill. President Barack Obama dropped plans to allow exploration off the Atlantic coast after a BP Plc well blew out last year, causing the worst U.S. offshore oil spill.
“The pain being felt today has been exacerbated by the actions of this administration, who for the past two years have repeatedly blocked, hindered and raised the cost to access to our American energy resources,” Hastings said during a debate today in Washington. The bill “is necessary to hold our feet to the fire, and to ensure that these lease sales move forward.”
Representative Rush Holt, a New Jersey Democrat and member of Hastings’ committee, called the Republican bills “amnesia acts” because they ignored lessons from the spill, which spewed 4.9 million barrels of oil in the Gulf of Mexico.
The Obama administration said it opposed the Republicans’ bills, because they would undercut safety reforms put in place after the spill.
“The Republicans are debating more drilling without more safety,” said Representative Edward Markey of Massachusetts, the top Democrat on the resources panel.
The measure is the first of three that Republicans are pushing to increase offshore production to 3 million barrels a day in 2027 from 1.7 million barrels a day in 2010. Measures that may be debated next week require the Interior Department to make decisions on permit applications within 60 days and establish a domestic oil and natural gas production goal.
Frances Beinecke, president of the New York-based Natural Resources Defense Council, said it was “misleading and wrong” to suggest the Republican plan will lower gas prices.
“More drilling only means more profits for the oil industry,” Beinecke, a member of the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill, said in a statement.
Lawmakers debated whether Obama should release oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. Markey told reporters today oil prices fell 33 percent in 1991 when President George H.W Bush released oil from the reserve and 19 percent when President Bill Clinton released crude in 2000.
House Speaker John Boehner, an Ohio Republican, said high gas prices didn’t warrant a release.
“The same Democrats who voted to close down American energy production now want to look for a way out of their problem,” he said. “It’s there for an emergency,” Boehner said of the reserve.
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