A maze of crude oil pipe and equipment is seen with the American and Texas flags flying in the background at the Strategic Petroleum Reserve in Freeport, Texas.
Richard Carson | Reuters
WASHINGTON — The U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill Friday aimed at limiting the president’s ability to draw down the nation’s Strategic Petroleum Reserve for any reason other than a “severe energy supply disruption.”
The law is meant to prevent a repeat of President Joe Biden’s numerous withdrawals from the SPR in 2022 that Republicans contend were intended to lower consumer gas prices ahead of the midterm elections
The bill passed on a near party-line vote, 221-205, after more than six hours of individual House votes on various proposed amendments.
Titled the Strategic Production Response Act, the legislation passed Friday would prohibit any new drawdowns on the SPR until federal agencies had developed a plan to lease federal lands for oil and gas production “by the same percentage as the percentage of petroleum … that is to be drawn down,” according to the bill’s text.
Despite passing the House, the legislation is all but certain never to be signed into law. It lacks the support to pass the Democratic-controlled Senate and the White House has said Biden will veto it if it ever comes to his desk.
Days before the vote, Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm said at a White House press briefing that the bill “would impose unnecessary, unhelpful restrictions on when the SPR can be used to help provide supply.”
“It would not offer any tangible benefits to the American people,” Granholm told reporters. “Instead, it would interfere with our ability to be responsive during an international emergency … a natural disaster or a pipeline outage at home.”
The White House has long argued that the releases from the SPR in the past year were necessary to offset the surge in pump prices sparked by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
But Republicans counter that the size of the overall 2022 release, 180 million barrels, was excessive, and that individual releases and announcements about future releases were timed for maximum political benefit for Democrats.
Over the last year, the total oil in the reserve shrunk to about 380 million barrels, its lowest since 1984, raising concerns about energy security.
When Biden took office in 2021, the SPR contained 638 million barrels.
Friday’s legislation marked the second time that the GOP-controlled House has passed a bill related to the SPR. The first one prohibited the sale of petroleum reserves to Russia, China, Iran and North Korea. It passed with bipartisan support.
Following Friday’s passage, the bill’s chief sponsor, House Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers, applauded the vote.
“President Biden has turned a longtime bipartisan strategic asset, the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, into a political tool to cover up the consequences of his expensive rush-to-green agenda,” she said in a statement.
The legislation “provides a path towards making energy more affordable and reliable for Americans by preserving the SPR’s vital and central purpose — to provide the oil supplies Americans need during true emergencies, not drain them away for non-emergency, political purposes,” she added.