Policy: Environment & Energy

House GOP to hit Obama energy agenda with trio of bills

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House Republicans will take shots at the Obama administration's energy policies this week when a handful of bills come to the floor for votes.

The bills, which range from removing barriers to approve new natural gas pipelines to handcuffing proposed rules for hydraulic fracturing on federal lands, come on the heels of President Obama touting that U.S. oil production last month outpaced imports for the first time since 1995.

"That’s a big deal. That’s a tremendous step towards American energy independence," Obama said in his weekly address, adding that more fuel-efficient vehicles and the expansion of renewable energy contributed to taming energy consumption.

But Republicans say the oil and gas industry's recent domestic success has occurred despite Obama's policies. The bills the House is scheduled to consider this week would take aim at them by, among other things, handcuffing the administration's ability to regulate oil and gas production on federal lands.

Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said last week that the uptick in domestic oil production showed that the U.S. has "the opportunity to take back control of our energy future" if it pursues the policies preferred by Republicans.

"Common-sense solutions like expanding production on federal lands and modernizing permit processes would further reduce U.S. imports from our adversaries and could help us achieve energy self-sufficiency even sooner than expected," Upton said.

Although all the bills are likely to pass the Republican-controlled House, they're likely dead on arrival in the Senate. Democrats — save for a bloc of centrists — would seek to block the bills because they would weaken environmental safeguards on energy production.

A measure from Rep. Bill Flores, R-Texas, would block Interior Department rules on hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in states that already have standards in place.

The Department of Interior has issued a draft rule for fracking, a controversial drilling method that taps hard-to-reach hydrocarbons buried deep underground by blasting away shale rock formations with a high-pressure mixture of water, sand and chemicals.

The drilling method has been credited with driving the domestic energy boom, but has brought fears of groundwater pollution.

The draft rule, which would affect only federal lands, would set requirements for managing so-called flowback water used in drilling, for well integrity and for disclosing chemicals used during the fracking process.

The oil and gas industry contends federal rules would be duplicative and wants states to retain the right to regulate the practice. The Flores bill would give them a chance to do so, even if the state regulatory regimes are weaker than Interior's proposal.

The bill hits on an argument from conservatives and the oil industry that the Obama administration has maintained too tight a grip on drilling on federal lands. The White House has argued, however, that most of the nation's shale plays exist on private and state lands.

Republicans have the same complaint about offshore drilling, saying the administration has kept too much of the nation's coasts off limits.

As such, the House this week also is scheduled to consider a bill from Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-Colo., that attempts to make it easier to obtain offshore oil and gas drilling permits by imposing a 60-day deadline for decisions by the Interior Department. Failing to act within that period would amount to granting a permit.

And finally, Upton is pushing a bill to expedite natural gas pipeline permits by placing a time limit on federal decisions for them.

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