WASHINGTON (AP) — A Senate panel approved energy legislation Thursday that would lift the 40-year-old ban on crude oil exports and open more areas of the Arctic, Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean to oil and gas exploration.
Republican Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, chairman of the panel, championed the bill, which passed by a party-line vote of 12-10. She said lifting the ban would turn the U.S. into an energy superpower.
Democrat Maria Cantwell of Washington said after the vote that she has questions about what lifting the ban would mean for gasoline prices in her state, which she said are among the highest in the nation.
The committee also passed a comprehensive energy bill, but with bipartisan support.
The legislation includes measures designed to make energy cheaper, such as streamlining the permitting process for some hydroelectric and geothermal companies, and sets up a grant program that will fund apprenticeship programs for people seeking to work in the energy sector.
It also would make the Energy Department the agency responsible for coordinating the response if the energy grid is hacked.
Lawmakers saved many of the more contentious amendments for debate on the Senate floor. Cantwell described Thursday’s votes as an important first step. “We need to remind people of the good in the broader picture,” Murkowski said.
The legislation to end the oil export ban faces a tougher path. No Democrats on the committee voted for the bill, which has been criticized by environmental groups.
The group Oceana called it “a massive give-away to Big Oil and a slap in the face to coastal communities that have vocally opposed offshore drilling.”
A trade group representing the oil and gas industry said it’s ironic that the U.S. would strike a deal to allow Iranian crude onto the global market while refusing to give the same opportunity to American producers.
“Together, these two bills include vital components of any truly comprehensive energy strategy,” said Louis Finkel, the executive vice president at the American Petroleum Institute. “We urge the House and Senate to quickly send this important legislation to the president’s desk.”