Another vote on legislation to block drilling in the Atlantic is set for Thursday as House Democrats seek to advance their environmental agenda.
“We’re striking back this week against the Trump administration and their agenda to drill everywhere, every time, with no exception,” House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) said ahead of Wednesday’s votes.
There is minimal drilling taking place in the areas protected by the bills, but Democrats want to block off areas the Trump administration is eager to tap as part of its energy dominance strategy. That plan has been put on hold as the administration fights to drill in parts of the Arctic previously protected by former President Obama.
The White House on Monday announced that President Trump would veto the bills.
“These bills would undermine the Administration’s commitment to a prosperous American economy supported by the responsible use of the Nation’s abundant natural resources,” the White House wrote in a statement.
H.R. 1941, the bill to block drilling along the East and West coasts, passed with 238 votes. H.R. 205, the bill that would block drilling along Florida’s coast in the Gulf of Mexico, passed with 248 votes.
“When you have offshore structures, rigs or otherwise exposed to a marine and corrosive environment, something is going to break down and something is going to spill,” said Rep. Joe Cunningham (D-S.C.), a freshman who campaigned on opposition to offshore drilling and sponsored the bill to ban drilling on the Atlantic and Pacific coasts.
“If we have if we’re learning anything from the past, it’s that when you drill, you spill. No one should be comfortable exposing our shorelines to that risk,” he said.
The bills enjoyed broad support among Democrats but each also secured Republican co-sponsors. Florida Republicans were particularly eager to sign on to the bill to protect their coastline, an effort led by Rep. Francis Rooney (R-Fla.), alongside nine other conservatives.
Offshore drilling is deeply unpopular in Florida, where nearly 70 percent of voters in 2018 approved a constitutional amendment to ban offshore drilling.
Rooney repeatedly thanked Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) for helping to bring the bill to the floor and said he hoped it would garner votes from other Republicans.
“I think this is an important opportunity for the Republican Party to show young people, soccer moms like George Bush’s old coalition, university people that the Republican Party can do other things than just scream about guns,” Rooney told reporters.
But many other Republicans opposed the effort to block offshore drilling, and GOP leaders earlier on Wednesday introduced their own alternative bill they labeled as an “all-of-the-above” energy approach.
Dubbed the American Energy First Act, the bill would limit the executive branch’s ability to place unilateral moratoriums on drilling on public lands and waters, including the Gulf of Mexico.
During the debate on the offshore drilling bans, many Republicans argued blocking such activity would hurt America’s energy independence and stymie job creation from the oil and gas industry.
An amendment from Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.) attempted to rename one of the bills the “Russian Energy Reliance and U.S. Poverty Act.”
“The United States is home to some of the richest energy sources in the world. Rather than relying on hostile regimes who hate America, we should be producing energy right here in our backyard. Today’s Left wants to lock up millions of acres of land and water from energy exploration which will put millions of Americans out of work, send energy prices skyrocketing and harm our national security,” Gosar said during the debate.
The legislation passed by the House on Wednesday is unlikely to pass the Republican-led Senate, something sponsors of the bills acknowledged.
“Sen. Scott and Sen. Rubio are going to have to stand up for our state,” said Rep. Kathy Castor (D-Fla.), a co-sponsor of the bill barring drilling in the Gulf of Mexico. “They can do it. A senator has a lot of power standing on their own to do it. And that’s what it’s going to take to stand up to the Trump administration and all the damage that they’re doing.”
Updated at 5:45 p.m.