House rejects Obama administration drilling plan

The House of Representatives today rejected an Obama administration plan for selling offshore drilling leases over the next five years and instead voted to replace it with a more aggressive GOP alternative.

Although a bipartisan coalition of Senators today introduced a similar proposal, neither pro-drilling measure is expected to clear Congress, much less with the support needed to override President Barack Obama’s threatened veto.

Still, Republicans were able to muster a strong showing of support for their plan, which passed 253-170 and would schedule 29 offshore oil and gas lease sales over the next five years, nearly double the 15 that would be allowed under the administration’s existing schedule. In a separate 164-261 vote, the House rejected the administration’s five-year plan, which was formalized in late June.

Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., said that in “a clear choice between President Obama’s failed energy policies . . . and a bipartisan energy plan to create American jobs,” the White House initiative failed.

“The bipartisan plan that passed today is what a real vision for America’s energy future should look like — more American jobs, more American energy and less dependence on unfriendly foreign countries,” Hastings added.

Hastings’ bill would schedule 29 lease sales and give oil companies several opportunities to bid on drilling rights in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas north of Alaska. The measure also would schedule a sale of North Aleutian Basin drilling rights in 2016 and give energy companies two cracks at leases off the south California coast in 2014 and 2017.

The GOP bill also would force a sale of offshore drilling leases in an area off the coast of Virginia, which was originally scheduled for 2011 but indefinitely postponed amid opposition from leaders in neighboring northern states and concerns raised by the Defense Department, which conducts exercises in the region.

By contrast, the Interior Department’s 2012-2017 offshore oil and gas leasing program schedules a dozen lease sales in the Gulf of Mexico and three in waters near Alaska, but rules out selling drilling rights along the East and West coasts.

Under federal law, Congress has 60 days to review — and possibly reject — the Interior Department’s five-year plan for the outer continental shelf.

The Interior Department is already preparing for one sale, with an auction of western Gulf of Mexico leases scheduled for November.

If Congress rejects the administration’s drilling plan, that sale would be canceled, and officials would have to go back to the drawing board to craft a new plan. It could take more than a year to develop a new plan and subject it to environmental reviews required under federal law.

Democrats and offshore drilling foes accused Republicans of playing politics with the issue during an election year.

Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., said Republicans were bowing at the altar of the oil industry and offering oil and gas companies a big “giveaway.”

In the Senate, a bipartisan coalition led by Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, introduced another drilling plan. It was co-sponsored by Sens. Jim Webb, D-Va., Mark Warner, D-Va., Mary Landrieu, D-La., John Hoeven, R-N.D., and Jim Inhofe, R-Okla.

The Senate plan would schedule 27 lease sales, including auctions of tracts off the mid-Atlantic Coast. It also would provide a big incentive to states to endorse drilling in nearby waters, by giving them a 37.5 percent cut of any federal royalties derived from oil and gas drilling off their coasts. Similar revenue-sharing proposals have been controversial in the Senate.