A coalition of House lawmakers, led by Reps. John Peterson (R-PA) and Neil Abercrombie (D-HI), Thursday introduced a bipartisan, comprehensive energy bill that seeks to lift the congressional moratorium on oil and natural gas drilling in closed areas of the federal Outer Continental Shelf (OCS). Meanwhile, House leaders plan to take another go at anti-energy speculation legislation, but a Democratic aide said it’s likely to be after the August recess.

Specifically the coalition bill would open waters 25 miles and beyond from shorelines to exploration and production, but would give coastal states the option to pass legislation banning activity between 25 miles and 50 miles offshore. Beyond the 50-mile limit, all waters would be open to drilling. The measure also would repeal the 125-mile moratorium on natural gas and oil production in the eastern Gulf of Mexico.

The coalition, which includes about 26 House lawmakers, estimates that repealing the congressional moratorium would result in $2.6 trillion in additional royalties, with 30% ($780 billion) going to the federal treasury and another 30% going to producing coastal states, with the remainder earmarked for different reserve funds (conservation, environment restoration, renewable energy and carbon capture/sequestration and nuclear waste) as well as the low-income energy assistance program.

The odds that the legislation will be scheduled for debate on the floor when the House returns in September are remote, given that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) is dead set against expanding production in the OCS.

In other action, the House Democratic leadership is expected to take another shot, but not until Congress returns in September, at passing its bill (HR 6604) aimed at curbing excessive speculation in the energy and agriculture markets, a well-placed Capitol Hill aide said. Democrats suffered a defeat Wednesday, failing to capture the majority vote needed to move forward with their speculation bill (see Daily GPI, July 31).

By 276-151, House lawmakers fell just short of the two-thirds vote required to pass legislation under the chamber’s suspension rules, which establish a higher hurdle for passage while limiting debate and barring amendments. In September, House leaders are likely to bring up the bill again under different rules that would require just a simple majority for passage.

However, under that strategy, Republicans could offer amendments to the speculation bill, including one that would seek to expand oil and gas activity in the federal OCS. Democrats could argue that any offshore amendment to the speculation bill should be ruled non-germane.

On the Senate side, partisan bickering over amendments, including one on offshore drilling, has stalled the speculation bill (S. 3264). In an about-face Wednesday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said he would accept an offer from Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) to move forward on the speculation bill with four amendments permitted from each party, Congressional Quarterly Today reported.

The four Republican amendments propose new OCS drilling; the development of oil shale in western states; construction of new nuclear facilities; and a broader piece of legislation (S. 2958) that, among other things, would allow coastal states to petition the federal government for an exemption from the moratorium on offshore drilling, and open up the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas leasing.

But because Republicans Wednesday blocked a bill to extend tax breaks for renewable energy (S. 3335), Reid said his offer to allow GOP-backed amendments to the energy speculation bill was off the table. Proponents of the Senate tax break extenders package (S. 3335) fell nine votes short of the 60 needed to end debate and bring up the bill for a final vote. Only four Republicans joined Democrats in voting for cloture (51-43).

“We’re not going to be in a position to legislate any more, it appears, on the speculation bill,” Reid said on the Senate floor. “It appears Republicans have rejected our offer to do something [compromise] on the extenders package.”

As the standoff over amendments continued on Capitol Hill, President Bush called on Democrats to schedule a vote on offshore drilling before Congress leaves for its recess.

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