GOP targets Dems as ‘anti-energy’ ahead of offshore drilling votes

Republicans are painting Democrats in tough re-election contests as anti-American energy, capitalizing on a series of looming House votes on bills that aim to accelerate domestic oil and natural gas projects.

The National Republican Congressional Committee began the push today, issuing news releases that target 29 House Democrats as having “anti-energy policies” and “consistently (opposing) efforts to encourage American energy production.”

Here’s an excerpt from the release targeting Rep. Bill Owens, D-N.Y.:

“Bill Owens has been a stalwart supporter of his Democrat leaders’ efforts to crush American-made energy, resulting in skyrocketing bills for New York’s middle-class families. Will Owens again vote to continue America’s dependence on foreign oil while foreign countries like China instead bolster their own?”

The campaign aims to heap political pressure on the lawmakers in advance of House votes Wednesday or Thursday on legislation that would streamline Clean Air Act permitting of offshore drilling projects. The bill would set a six-month timeline for the Environmental Protection Agency to take final action on air pollution permit applications for exploration on the outer continental shelf, and it would bar the federal Environmental Appeals Board from reviewing the agency’s decisions on those projects. Instead, legal challenges could only be pursued in the Court of Appeals based in Washington, D.C.

The bill aims to remove environmental hurdles for offshore exploration, including proposed drilling by Shell in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas near Alaska.

Shell had hoped to launch work on its first Beaufort well after ice cleared this summer, but the company scrapped the plans in February, after two essential air quality permits were revoked by the Environmental Appeals Board, which faulted federal regulators for not fully reviewing potential emissions from a drill ship and support vessels. Assistant EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy told a congressional panel in May that Shell and the EPA were close to developing “a strong permit” that would withstand any future scrutiny from the appeals board.

Republican leaders plan other votes this summer on legislation that is cheered by the oil and gas industry — and could provide fodder for similar political attacks. Likely next is a bill that would give the Obama administration a Nov. 1 deadline to make a final decision on approving or denying the proposed Keystone XL pipeline to deliver oil sands crude from Alberta, Canada, to Gulf Coast refineries.

But Republicans aren’t the only ones looking to score political points with the oil and gas bills.

For instance, on the offshore drilling and air permit legislation, Democrats are pitching a host of amendments that aim to put Republicans in a tough spot and paint the GOP as out-of-touch allies of Big Oil and foes of American workers.

Here’s a sampling: