House passes drilling restrictions, lifts moratorium
The House narrowly approved a sweeping plan to crack down on offshore drilling Friday, despite objections from Gulf Coast lawmakers and oil industry advocates who said the measure would slash U.S. jobs and curb domestic energy production.This is a horrible bill even if it is not as bad as Democrats wanted to make it. It is also out of step with the voters and should be an issue in this fall's election. Voters overwhelming want to keep offshore production of oil and gas. Environmental wackos want to use the Gulf blowout as an excuse for strangling domestic production to drive up cost to make less efficient forms of energy more competitive. Hopefully there are enough senators willing to block this atrocious legislation.
But, in a rebuke of the Obama administration, the House also voted 216-195 to reject its drilling moratorium and lift the ban for rigs that satisfy newly imposed safety and environmental requirements.
Lawmakers added the moratorium exemption to the broader drilling bill, which passed 209-193 and represents Capitol Hill's first broad legislative response to the April 20 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. It now heads to the Senate, where a separate energy and drilling measure has been stalled by a dispute over limiting oil company liability for future spills.
Oil industry leaders and their allies in Congress countered that the legislation was overbroad, as it includes dozens of initiatives that go far beyond the Deepwater Horizon disaster.
They accused the House of acting prematurely by making changes before a complete investigation of the blowout at BP's Macondo well.
Rep. Kevin Brady, R-Texas, called the bill "a thinly disguised permanent roadblock to American energy."
"It will drive American companies out of the Gulf, delay future drilling, increase dependence on foreign oil, kill 300,000 good-paying U.S. energy jobs (and) levy a new $22 billion tax on American energy - but not on foreign oil."
During a day of occasionally heated debate, Republicans and oil-patch Democrats focused much of their anger against the bill's plan to get rid of the $75 million ceiling on the economic and natural-resource damages companies can be forced to pay for offshore oil spills. Under existing law, companies already are responsible for all pollution cleanup costs.
The measure also would hike the insurance coverage required for offshore drilling. Rep. Gene Green, D-Texas, said the prospect of unchecked liability would bar all but the richest oil companies from drilling off U.S. coasts, because smaller producers would be unable to meet insurance requirements.
"Imposing unlimited liability for economic damages will effectively eliminate from the Gulf of Mexico U.S. independent exploration and development companies," Green said.