A vote by the U.S. Senate to change rules on filibusters is an indication of how the partisan divide in Washington may inhibit an energy future some lawmakers are trying hard to protect.
Republican leaders in the House passed three bills last week they say are needed to streamline regulations in an energy sector hamstrung by burdensome and redundant federal policies. The National Resources Defense Council said, however, those bills likely won't make it to President Obama's desk.
David Goldston, director of government affairs for the NRDC, said the measures -- H.R. 1900, 1965 and 2728 -- are part of an effort by House Republicans to do away with long-standing policies meant to ensure the interests of the American people are protected.
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"Even those who support more oil and gas drilling should be appalled," he said.
Rep. Bill Flores, R-Texas, introduced H.R. 2728 to prohibit the Interior Department from enforcing proposed regulations on hydraulic fracturing in states that already have existing rules on their books. He said his measure, and others like it, would usher in a renaissance in the manufacturing sector by creating thousands of high-paying jobs.
"In order to protect these jobs we must limit the federal government’s ability slow down energy production with duplicative regulations and unnecessary red tape," he said.
Last week, John Felmy, chief economist at the American Petroleum Institute, said domestic crude oil production increased in October by 11.7 percent year-on-year to nearly 7.8 million barrels per day. Crude oil imports for the month, meanwhile, fell to a 17-year low.
"The United States continues to meet more and more of its demand with energy produced here at home," he said.
House leaders say they need new rules to ensure that trend continues in what may be a race against the clock. In its World Energy Outlook report for 2013, the International Energy Agency, which has headquarters in Paris, said that while crude oil production from North America was reducing OPEC's influence, the Middle East is "the only large source of low-cost oil [and] takes back its role as a key source of oil supply growth from the mid-2020s."
The easy passage of the energy bills through the Republican-led House was capped off last week by a vote in the Senate, controlled by Democrats, to allow a simple majority vote on some judicial nominees. The Senate measure would also let the Obama administration make Cabinet-level appointments without fear of delays.
"Today's pattern of obstruction, it just isn't normal," Obama said. "It's not what our Founders envisioned."
The administration and its supporters have long argued Republicans are abusing the filibuster but Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., warned passing rules to counter the tyranny of the majority may soon backfire on Democrats.
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"I say to my friends on the other side of the aisle, you'll regret this and you may regret it a lot sooner than you think," he said.
Rather than reaching across the aisle on energy legislation, shots across the partisan bow could threaten the energy security House Republicans are trying to protect. The White House last week said it would veto the House bills if they ever make it to Obama's desk. From Goldston's point of view, the push then for an energy overhaul has become a moot political point.
"With an appropriate White House veto promised for each bill, [these bills] should now die in the U.S. Senate," he said.
By. Daniel J. Graeber of Oilprice.com