The bill would prohibit non-emergency releases from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve unless the government approves a corresponding increase in domestic oil and gas production on federal lands.
The extensive floor time spent on the SPR bill — the second such measure passed by the House this month — showcased the GOP plans to target Biden’s broader efforts to wean the economy off the fossil fuels that drive climate change, which Republicans say is leaving the country vulnerable to supply shortages.
Republicans’ decision to open up the vote to free-wheeling debate through a “modified open rule” prompted Democrats to submit dozens of amendments aiming to curtail a GOP drilling push.
The House passed legislation two weeks ago that would ban sales from the reserve to China. Lawmakers adopted an amendment Thursday as part of H.R. 21 that would extend the ban to Russia, Iran and North Korea. Both of those efforts drew significant Democratic support.
Republicans cast the new bill in national security terms, accusing Biden of recklessly making politically timed releases ahead of the midterm election. They contend he has depleted the emergency reserve, which was created in 1975 in response to the Arab oil embargo.
“If there’s a hurricane that hits the Gulf [and] disrupts the oil markets, you’ve got oil there to make sure you can continue to flow oil to your refineries to keep the supply going. It’s not there to mask bad policies,” Majority Leader Steve Scalise
(R-La.) said on the House floor Thursday during debate on the bill.
Biden has proposed a plan for replenishing the stockpile after ordering the biggest crude oil releases by far in the history of the reserve — it has fallen by 266 million barrels from 638 million barrels since he took office. Its current level of 372 million barrels is its lowest level since 1983.
But he’s far from the first president to draw down supply — Presidents George H.W. Bush, George W. Bush and Barack Obama all released barrels from the reserve. And Congress in recent years turned to the reserve as a way to pay for unrelated priorities, with lawmakers of both parties approving sales to pay for needs such as funding the government.
Democrats said the GOP’s latest proposal would hamstring presidents from using the reserve in the event of an emergency that could drive up gas prices during a future oil shortage, arguing Biden appropriately and effectively used the SPR to tame high prices that worsened after Russia invaded Ukraine. The Treasury Department has estimated that the Biden administration’s releases reduced gasoline prices by up to 40 cents per gallon.
“We know as prices went up, we should use every tool in our arsenal to bring them down,” Rep. Frank Pallone of New Jersey, the top Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said in a floor speech Friday. “That’s what President Biden did. He decided to use the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to provide more supply and bring down prices and it succeeded in doing that. Why would the Republicans want to deny the president, not just President Biden, but any president that opportunity?”
The GOP bill, though, would provide an exception “in the case of a severe energy supply interruption,” caused by hurricanes or other natural disasters, which Republicans argued are the scenarios that should prompt SPR withdrawals.
House Republicans are next expected to devote time to moving their broader energy agenda centered on easing permitting rules to expand energy production and mining of critical minerals.
“This is a direct approach on a specific issue with the SPR,” House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Bruce Westerman (R-Ark.) said in an interview. “Americans probably have heard more about the Strategic Petroleum Reserve this week than they ever knew or cared to know. But we are going to be looking at much broader energy bills where we will not just focus on onshore and offshore oil and gas production, but also the other component that goes with renewable energy and with electrification and decarbonization and that’s mining.”