House GOP won’t back down on linking drilling to highways

House Republicans plan to try to rework and revive stalled legislation that would link expanded oil and gas production with highway and road projects, a top GOP lawmaker said today.

The House’s current legislation that linked energy production to infrastructure was on life support after House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, recently said his chamber would take up an energy-free transportation bill that the Senate recently passed.

But today’s announcement shows House Republicans haven’t given up all hope of passing some sort of energy-infrastructure package, despite continuing strong opposition in the Senate.

“We continue to believe that linking energy and infrastructure is the responsible thing to do in order to meet our long-term needs,” Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said in a statement.

Mica said he plans to introduce a bill that would extend the federal fuel tax collection and surface-transportation programs for three months under current policies beyond the March 31 expiration date. The extension would provide time for the House to rework its transportation package.

The House last month passed the energy provisions as part of its five-year, $260 billion transportation package. The provisions would expand oil and gas production into new waters, open a small part of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and require the issuance of commercial oil-shale leases. The revenues would be used to fund some transportation projects.

The bill also contained a separate provision from Rep. Lee Terry, R-Neb., to approve the Keystone XL oil pipeline.

Republicans had framed the bill as creating jobs and linking expanded domestic energy production with improving the nation’s infrastructure. However, the bill came under veto threat from President Barack Obama and was considered all but dead in the Democratic-held Senate.

The package also came under fire from conservative groups that said it costs too much money and Democrats who objected to the bill’s controversial energy measures. Environmental groups also were concerned that the bill would have curtailed environmental reviews too much in seeking to get projects built quicker.

The House GOP has faced tremendous pressure from the White House and Senate Democrats to move on the upper chamber’s bill, which passed on a bipartisan 74-22 vote earlier this month. The bill, which contains no drilling measures, would provide a $109 billion, two-year transportation extension while consolidating existing federal programs and trying to expedite environmental reviews.

Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., signaled Tuesday he wasn’t ruling out trying to get language approving the Keystone XL pipeline into whatever bill the House decides to advance. His own effort to amend the Senate’s bill with similar language failed recently.

Senate Democrats have pushed the House to take up the Senate’s bill and pass it as a clean bill free of controversial amendments. Democrats have warned that some transportation programs will expire, putting hundreds of thousands out of work.

Democrats have also urged the House not to resort to a temporary extension of previous law, noting that the U.S. trust fund that finances surface transportation projects could run out of money by 2013 without reforms to keep it solvent.

“They should pass a bill that deals with transportation and not put extraneous matters on there that have nothing to do with building highways, freeways and bridges,” Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., chairwoman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, told reporters in the Capitol. “Otherwise they’re just messing up the bill.”

Mica insisted that the House would work toward a bill “that provides long-term certainty.”

Many Republicans have criticized the Senate bill has too short-term.