Obama administration officials ripped into GOP proposals to tie Strategic Petroleum Reserve releases to increases in federal oil and gas land leases and to require new analysis of the economic impacts of several gasoline-related environmental regulations.
A new GOP bill would require a new interagency panel to analyse how certain future Environmental Protection Agency rules might impact gasoline prices and jobs, but an EPA official said the bill wouldn’t reduce prices at the pump and could threaten Clean Air Act health protections.
The Gasoline Regulations Act targets a number of looming EPA regulations, including one for cutting sulfur in fuel by two-thirds, another for tightening U.S. ozone standards and a rule for refinery emissions.
Gina McCarthy, an EPA assistant administrator, said in written testimony that the bill appears to use high gas prices as the reason to rollback public health protections, but those protections have little to do with gasoline prices. The bill would also duplicate analysis that is already done by officials, McCarthy said.
“This legislation also delays — indefinitely — rules that EPA has not even proposed,” McCarthy said. “In short, this legislation does not address the reasons for the recent increase in the price of gasoline, while rolling back core aspects of the Clean Air Act — which was passed on a bipartisan basis and signed by a Republican president.”
Gasoline prices have steadily become a growing political point as prices rise near the $4 mark for the first time since 2008. The national average hit $3.91 Wednesday, a rise of 2 cents, according to the AAA gas gauge. Houston drivers are paying $3.87, or 9 cents below the record-high price of $3.96 in July 2008.
As prices have risen, the Obama administration has touted an “all-of-the-above” energy plan that he says is the best long-term solution to the rising energy costs. Republicans, however, have argued the administration should remove unnecessary regulations and spur domestic drilling.
Republicans have also recently proposed that a 1 percent increase in federal lands leased for oil and gas production be required for every percentage point drawdown in oil from the strategic reserve, a 700-million-barrel stockpile on the Gulf Coast for emergency supply disruptions.
That proposal also came under fire by an Obama administration official.
Deputy Assistant Energy Secretary Chris Smith said in written testimony that the Strategic Energy Production Act would make it more difficult to use the SPR to respond promptly to supply interruptions in crude oil. He argued that the bill would also make release from the strategic reserve more dependent on actions of potential lessees, including their willingness to lease.
“It would also limit DOE’s ability to manage the SPR on a day to day basis, in which releases occasionally are necessary for the routine maintenance and operation of the reserve,” Smith added.
Republicans are proposing the legislation in seeking to position themselves against Democrats and the White House on oil and gas policy, which has surged to the forefront of political debate in the wake of higher gasoline prices. GOP lawmakers insisted Wednesday their legislation would increase oil supplies and decrease refining costs, helping put downward pressure on gasoline prices.
Democrats have called for cracking down on what they view as excessive speculation in oil markets and urged the White House to consider releasing oil from the strategic reserve.
But analysts have repeatedly said policymakers have few, if any, short-term tools to address gasoline prices, which are tied to oil prices set on global markets.
James Burkhard, managing director at IHS CERA, a research firm, said in written testimony said the current run-up in oil prices, the biggest determinant of what consumers pay at the pump, stems from geopolitics, specifically from uncertainty linked to the Iranian nuclear issue.
Analysts have said increased U.S. drilling would take years to kick in and would have, at best, a fractional impact on oil prices. They also have said the strategic reserve is intended for use only during supply emergencies, not as a price-smoothing tool as some Democrats have advocated.
Obama has ripped into GOP proposals to expand drilling into new waters and lands as an election-year “bumper sticker” that wouldn’t reduce gasoline prices. He has touted an “all-of-the-above” strategy of more oil, gas, renewable energy and fuel-efficiency boosts to cut oil use as a long-term strategy for U.S. energy independence.