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House Passes Bill to Restart Offshore Lease Sales

In a rare show of bipartisanship, the U.S. House passed the "Restarting American Offshore Leasing Now Act," also known as HR 1230, by a 266-149 vote on Thursday before breaking for the week. The bill now moves to the Senate.

Meanwhile, in a statement Thursday President Obama said he opposed HR 1230 and another energy bill, HR 1229, but did not threaten an outright veto. Both bills were submitted, along with a third, by Rep. Doc Hastings (R-WA) in March.

HR 1230 requires the federal government to conduct oil and gas lease sales in the Gulf of Mexico (GOM) and off the coast of Virginia (see Daily GPI, March 30).

The GOP-led House defeated two last-minute amendments proposed by Democrats. Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ) called for HR 1230 to comply with the National Environment Policy Act, while Reps. Gerry Connolly (D-VA), Jim Moran (D-VA) and John Sarbanes (D-MD) wanted some lease sales banned until there was a certification that drilling wouldn't affect military activity.

Republicans then defeated an attempt by Rep. Ben Lujan (D-NM) to have the bill sent back to committee, which would have effectively killed the legislation.

In the end 233 Republicans and 33 Democrats voted for HR 1230. Two Republicans and 147 Democrats opposed the measure, while five Republicans and 12 Democrats did not cast votes.

The House plans to take up Hastings' second bill -- HR 1229, also known as the "Putting the Gulf Back to Work Act" -- on Tuesday. That legislation calls for ending the de facto moratorium on shallow water and deepwater drilling in the GOM and requires Interior Secretary Ken Salazar to act on a permit to drill within 30 days of receiving an application, as well as 30 days to restart permits that were approved before May 27, 2010.

A third Hastings bill -- HR 1231, called "Reversing President Obama's Moratorium Act" -- would lift Obama's ban on new offshore drilling. It is expected to be taken up with HR 1229.

The White House said it opposed HR 1230 because the bill would undercut reforms implemented by the administration since the Macondo well blowout and oil spill, and it called opening areas of the GOM and the Atlantic to leasing "hasty." The statement of administration policy also said the White House opposed HR 1229 because the bill "would grant permits automatically, regardless of whether the applicant satisfied safety standards."

Officials in Virginia weighed in on both sides of the issue. Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, a Republican, urged the House to pass the bill in a statement Thursday.

"We know that lessons are being learned and that new safety standards have been put in place," McDonnell said, referencing the Macondo blowout. "We must not allow this unfortunate accident to constrain American energy policy at the expense of future domestic energy production, jobs and rising costs that harm every American family and business."

Moran spoke out against the bill, saying it threatened naval bases in Hampton Roads, VA, commercial shipping lanes to the Port of Virginia and the Port of Baltimore, as well as recreational and commercial fishing. "We should be about creating jobs, not destroying them," he said.

The oil and gas industry was quick to praise the House.

"We applaud Chairman Hastings and supporters of this vital legislation to expedite offshore energy development," American Chemistry Council CEO Cal Dooley said after the vote. "We urge Congress to move ahead on an 'all of the above' energy strategy that promotes energy efficiency and conservation, energy diversity and expanded domestic oil and natural gas supply, onshore and offshore."

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