House GOP rolls out energy proposal to counter Democrats offshore drilling ban

House Republicans on Wednesday rolled out an energy bill that’s a direct counter to a push by Democrats to ban offshore drilling.

The American Energy First Act, introduced by six GOP lawmakers, is labeled as an “all-of-the-above” energy approach that doubles down on the country’s need for onshore and offshore leasing of public lands for drilling royalties. 

House Republican Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) along with Reps. Rob Bishop (R-Utah), Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.), Jeff Duncan (R-S.C.) and Markwayne Mullin (R-Okla.) introduced the bill.

“Federal regulations have burdened energy development on federal lands and waters for far too long, and this legislation aims to put American Energy First and ensure economic growth and domestic energy security for decades to come,” a description of the bill reads.

The legislation, largely a compilation of separate energy bills introduced by House lawmakers in previous sessions of Congress, is being pitched as an “alternative” energy bill to the three offshore drilling ban packages being voted on by the House this week, which GOP lawmakers have labeled as a “Green New Deal light.”

A GOP committee aide for the House Natural Resources Committee said Republican lawmakers involved in the energy bill saw the plans currently pushed by Democrats as, “Fundamentals of the Green New Deal going as piecemeal.”

“What we see is a choice to go with less domestic energy development, locking up our federal land and waters, without evaluating what our possibilities are,” the aide said of the offshore drilling bills on a call with reporters Wednesday.

Lawmakers on Wednesday will vote on the House floor whether to pass two bills that would block exploration drilling in federal waters in the Gulf of Mexico and off the east and west coasts. Another vote on an oil and gas drilling moratorium in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) is scheduled for Thursday.

The Republican House aide called the three bills, which have some bipartisan support, “dead on arrival” in the Senate. The White House on Monday promised a veto of the bills if any were to land on Trump’s desk.

The American Energy First Act instead opts to make it easier for the country to produce energy, with measures to limit the executive’s ability to place unilateral moratoriums on drilling on public lands and waters, extending oil and gas drilling to the eastern portion of the Gulf of Mexico that is currently off-limits due to a ban placed in 2006, and streamlining permits for fossil fuel leasers.

While the plan is not an alternative climate change package, committee aides made the point that emissions are lower when energy is produced under the U.S.’s stringent pollution standards. The aides argued that a ban on drilling in the U.S. would not stop oil and gas needs, but instead push the onus for powering the country onto energy exports from foreign, sometimes “unfriendly,” countries with lesser standards. Also, they say that shipping those fuels overseas for U.S. use would contribute to greenhouse gas emissions.

“What we see is, looking at these proposals, they aren’t going to do anything to lessen how much oil and gas and conventional resources we’re using in the country,” the aide said. “All we’ll do is reduce the energy we are producing here and allow for a greater share of imports.”

The bill was also conceived with 2020 elections in mind and the message that could be sent to voters.

“We want to require that Congress weigh in on those decisions, especially with federal candidates saying they will lock up drilling on federal land unilaterally within their first few days in Congress,” the aide said.

“Americans in advance of the election next year should be aware of what alternatives are. This is good policy and what we think is a good starting place while adhering to principles of multiple use.”

Democrats at a coinciding press hearing Wednesday morning poked fun at the Republican bill.

Rep. Jared Huffman (D-Calif), who sponsored the bill to block exploration at ANWR, called the lawmakers backing the Republican legislation “some of the greatest minds of the 18th century.”

Written by Alan Smith

Alan Smith

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