WASHINGTON — The House on Wednesday may begin consideration of a bill that would alter the president’s authority to tap the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. President Joe Biden has said he would veto it.
The bill, introduced by House Energy and Commerce Chairwoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., would require the government to approve a plan to increase drilling on federal lands and waters prior to any nonemergency drawdown of the SPR. The percentage of public lands and offshore waters leased would be required to increase by the same percentage as any drawdown from the SPR.
The Energy secretary would be required to develop the plan in coordination with the secretaries of Agriculture, Interior and Defense.
Though unlikely to advance in the Senate, the bill gives House Republicans an opportunity to criticize administration policies governing drilling on public land.
Republicans criticized the Biden administration’s decision to tap the SPR last year in response to a spike in gas prices spurred partly by the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The drawdown was conducted under emergency authority.
Rodgers and others said the administration should instead focus on increasing production on public lands.
“Republicans want durable, long-lasting relief at the pump,” Rodgers said in a statement. “The best way to do this is by unleashing American energy, which is what [the bill] accomplishes.”
Prior to 2022, there were only three emergency releases from the SPR. However, the Energy Department also oversees exchanges, which are structured like short-term loans, and mandated sales that are set by Congress.
The organizing resolution passed on Jan. 9 specified that the bill would be considered under a modified open rule, the first time the House has considered a bill under this method in nearly seven years. The process allows Republicans and Democrats to offer amendments to the bill as long as they are submitted by the deadline.
House Energy and Commerce ranking member Frank Pallone Jr., D-N.J., said the bill would effectively ban the federal government from accessing the SPR until “big oil gets open access to drill on public lands” and that it was “not serious legislating.” However Pallone said he plans to take advantage of the open rule to offer as an amendment a measure he sponsored that would create an “Economic Petroleum Reserve,” through which the Energy Department would purchase oil at a low price and sell when prices are high to address high pump prices.
Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Fla., said she will offer an amendment to ban drilling off the coast of Florida.
The bill stands little chance of passing in the Democrat-controlled Senate, but the Biden administration still voiced its strong opposition to the bill. Energy Secretary Jennifer M. Granholm attended a White House press briefing on Monday to both defend Biden’s decision to tap the strategic reserve last year and reiterate her opposition to the bill, which she said would “impose unnecessary, unhelpful restrictions on when the SPR can be used to help provide supply.”
“It would require these arbitrary reports regarding energy production on federal lands before waiving any new restrictions,” Granholm said. “It would not offer any tangible benefits to the American people. Instead, it would interfere with our ability to be responsive to release oil during an international emergency, helping Putin’s war aims.”
The bill is one of the “ready-to-go” bills that Majority Leader Steve Scalise, R-La., announced House Republicans would prioritize upon taking the majority. On Jan. 12, the House passed, by a vote of 331-97, a bill from Rodgers that would prohibit the sale of any petroleum products from the SPR to “any entity that is under the ownership, control, or influence of the Chinese Communist Party.” On Tuesday, Senate Energy and Natural Resources ranking member John Barrasso, R-Wyo., released companion legislation.
Barrasso also introduced a draft bill that would bar nonemergency drawdowns of the SPR unless the federal government offers plans to increase drilling on public lands, albeit without the same percentage requirements.