The House Thursday passed an energy measure to fund highway and transportation projects that also included contentious language to kick-start the Keystone pipeline and open the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) to drilling.
The bill seeks to expand offshore drilling for oil and gas and create a shale oil leasing program, and passed mostly along party lines 237-187.
“Instead of more gimmicky stimulus spending or pork-laden bills of the past, this bill would permanently remove government barriers to job creation and support improving America’s roads and bridges,” said House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio).
Rep. Doc Hastings (R-Wash.), chairman of the House Resources Committee, said that in addition to developing energy for the U.S., money paid to the government for leasing the federal property would pay for infrastructure projects without raising taxes or adding to the deficit.
“Sadly, the president’s actions in office have been anything but pro energy,” Hastings said. “In fact, his rhetoric is 180 degrees from his action — since taking office, this administration has repeatedly blocked energy production.”
By opening three percent of lands in ANWR to drilling, Hastings said it would produce more than a trillion barrels of oil — enough to provide the U.S. with energy for 200 years.
Democrats objected to the ANWR provision, as well as the pipeline language that directs the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to approve the pipeline within 30 days.
“This bill is nothing but red meat, political propaganda at its worst,” said Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.). “Opening up ANWR will do nothing to lower gas prices.”
Rep. John Garamendi (D-Calif.) said energy development is not the way to pay for a transportation bill.
“This is a stupid policy,” Garamendi said. “This may be the worst energy policy I’ve ever seen.”
Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska), the leading congressional supporter of ANWR, said he has fought this battle “over and over again” to increase the supply of energy only to lose the fight to Democrats and environmentalists.
“We have the fossil fuels in America, but we haven’t had the will to develop it,” said Young, who predicted the price of gasoline this summer would rise to $5 a gallon.
“It is time for America to wake up, we need this supply of fossil fuels. It is criminal to rely on foreign countries,” Young said.
Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah) noted that the price of gasoline when President Barack Obama took office averaged $1.79 a gallon and now averages $3.28.
At this rate, Bishop said, “no one can afford a ‘Big Gulp.’”
The House energy and infrastructure bill was split into separate measures — energy production and transportation projects — after objections from both sides of the aisle that focused mostly on highway funding priorities.
Supporters of the package say the objections are the result of new rules banning earmarks, and noted that the last time a highway bill passed the house it contained more than 6,000 set-asides for pet projects.
Hundreds of amendments were filed to the highway bill, delaying action until after Congress returns from the President’s Day holiday.
A third measure members will vote on soon would also help pay for highway projects by requiring federal employees and members of Congress to contribute more toward their pensions.
Meanwhile, the Senate’s version of the highway bill hit some bumps in the road this week over efforts to attach an amendment by Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) that would defund Egypt and a separate effort by Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) to roll back Obama’s new rule on free contraceptives.