The U.S. House, in a rare show of bipartisanship Thursday, passed the Restarting American Offshore Leasing Now Act (HR 1230), but there appears to be no rush in the Senate to develop a companion bill, where passage in any case may be in doubt.

Bill Wicker, a spokesman for Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, told NGI on Friday that HR 1230 and two other bills introduced by Rep. Doc Hastings (R-WA) in March were being viewed by the Senate as “message bills.”

“I don’t believe lawmakers on either side of the Capitol see them advancing,” Wicker said. “I don’t think anyone believes they’re going anywhere.”

Wicker said Bingaman is planning to introduce, possibly this week, an Outer Continental Shelf reform bill similar to the measure that was voted out of committee in June 2010 but ultimately died in the Senate.

HR 1230 faces another hurdle. In a statement Thursday, President Obama said he opposed it and a second Hastings energy bill, HR 1229, but did not threaten an outright veto.

HR 1230 passed the House by a 266-149 vote on Thursday. It requires the federal government to conduct oil and gas lease sales in the Gulf of Mexico (GOM) and off the coast of Virginia (see NGI, April 4).

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, May 10. 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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