Energy & Environment

House Measure Lifts Gulf Drilling Moratorium

House Republicans on Thursday passed legislation to reverse President Obama’s moratorium on drilling in the Gulf of Mexico over the objections of many Democrats who insisted that gas prices would go down if oil company taxes were increased.

“No more should we have to beg those who hate us for their oil,” said Rep. Jeff Landry (R.-La. ), prompting a roar of applause from his colleagues during the House floor debate.  “America is on her way back,” Landry said.

Rep. Virginia Foxx (R.-N.C.) called the Obama administration policy a “reckless moratorium” and urged her colleagues to “reverse the dangerous, liberal endeavor.”

The measure passed 243 to 179, with nine Republican representatives from coastal states siding with Democrats: Vern Buchanan, Connie Mack and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida, Rodney Frelinghuysen, Leonard Lance, Frank LoBiondo, Jon Runyan and Chris Smith of New Jersey, and Walter Jones of North Carolina.

“What I’m hearing here, is that the Republicans are dedicated to helping the oil companies make more profits, not helping the American consumer,” said Rep. Jim McGovern (D.-Mass.).

Added his fellow Democrat from Massachusetts Rep. Edward Markey, “The only oil those [coastal] states want is suntan oil.”

The Obama administration banned most offshore drilling in the Gulf immediately after the Deepwater Horizon disaster last year.  Today, only a handful of projects have been allowed to move forward.

“We can’t allow the administration to keep stonewalling the permitting process,” said Rep. Doug Lamborn (R.-Colo.).

In one extreme case of how permits can get delayed, Shell has spent nearly $3 billion on a set of leases in Alaska , and still hasn’t gotten a permit.

Republicans dubbed the bureaucratic red tape a “permitorium.”

“Next year we are going to spend $400 billion overseas to countries who do not like us,” said Rep. Don Young (R.-Alaska).

“Obama wants to win the future, but his policies have taken us back to the past,” Young said.  “The issue of whether we should drill or not is long overdue.  I’ve heard this argument for 36 years.”

Rush Holt (D.-N.J.) said Republicans weren’t living in the “real world,” and that resuming oil exploration would be devastating for the environment and not affect gas prices.

“Let’s deal with the facts, fact matter, and this bill can have devastating consequences for workers, for those who have to travel by car and buy gasoline, and those who earn their living fishing in the Gulf.  Let’s not pass another amnesia act.  Let’s not ignore the spill and drill, baby, drill,” Holt said.

Meanwhile, Senate Democrats summoned top executives from five of the largest oil companies to a Finance Committee hearing Thursday to explain why they should not pay more in federal taxes.

In 2010, oil companies paid $5.7 billion in taxes, according to the Associated Press.

Democrats hope the proposed tax increases would reap $21 billion over 10 years for the government.  They are hoping to bait fiscal conservatives into supporting the tax increases by promising the money would be used to reduce the deficit.

The oil executives told the panel their companies are some of the top tax-paying corporations in the U.S.—more than Walmart, Microsoft, Coca-Cola and Pfizer—and that increasing taxes would cost jobs and hamper future oil exploration and development that would result in lower gas prices.

“It will also mean fewer dollars to state and federal treasuries and fewer jobs—all at a time when our economic recovery remains fragile and America needs all three,” said John Watson, chairman of Chevron.

Marvin Odum, president of Shell, said oil is a global commodity and that oil companies are “price takers, not price makers.”

“Because oil is sold in U.S. dollars throughout much of the world, when the dollar becomes weaker, it takes more dollars to buy the same amount of oil,” Odum said.

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R.-Utah) said the Democrats’ energy policy is to raise prices and score “cheap political points against politically unpopular oil companies.”

“No matter what the question is, it seems that for the President and some of my colleagues, the answer is always, raise taxes,” Hatch said.  “Government spends too much?  Raise some taxes.  Health care too expensive?  Raise some taxes.  Gas prices too expensive?  I’ve got it, let’s raise some taxes,” Hatch said.

And some people, Hatch said, are feeling the pain at the pump more than others.  “When Al Gore has to pay a little more to gas up the private jet to fly to Cannes, he doesn’t feel the pain.  “But when my constituents in Utah see gas go above $4 a gallon, they have to make real choices about whether they have to work longer hours to make ends meet and whether they can send their children to camp this summer,” Hatch said.

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