WASHINGTON -- In spite of a White House veto threat, the Republican-controlled House on Friday launched a new effort to open up the California and Atlantic coasts to oil drilling.
The measure is a long shot in the face of fierce opposition in the Democratic-led Senate and from the White House. Still, Republicans are eager to stoke the debate over offshore drilling and highlight differences between the parties over energy policy heading into next year’s election battles for control of the House and Senate.
The bill, which passed 235-186, would require lease sales by the end of next year for energy production off the coast of Santa Barbara and Ventura counties.
It also would direct the Interior Department to develop a new five-year plan for drilling in areas containing the “greatest known oil and natural gas reserves,’’ including areas off Southern California, Alaska and the Eastern Seaboard.
Virginia and South Carolina, whose governors have expressed support for offshore oil production, would likely be the first Atlantic states where new coastal drilling would be permitted under the proposed Offshore Energy and Jobs Act.
Offshore drilling has long been a hot issue in California, where a 1969 spill off Santa Barbara devastated the coast. A long-standing ban on new drilling off much of the nation’s coast expired in late 2008, but the Obama administration has kept the Pacific Coast off-limits to new coastal drilling.
The 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil-rig explosion in the Gulf of Mexico, which killed 11 workers and spewed an estimated 4.9 million barrels of oil into the water, led the administration to back off plans to open the eastern gulf and portions of the Atlantic to oil and natural gas exploration.
Republicans argued that the new bill would help lower fuel prices, create jobs, generate $1.5 billion over 10 years for the U.S. Treasury and enhance the nation’s energy security.
“I think, by most standards, that would be considered a fairly good bill,’’ said Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah).
But Rep. Lois Capps (D-Santa Barbara) assailed the House GOP majority for giving “lip service to respecting states’ rights’’ while seeking to “override the will of voters in my district and my state’’ opposed to new offshore drilling.
“I get it; this is a message bill,’’ Rep. Alan Lowenthal (D-Long Beach) added. Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) ridiculed the debate as a “Groundhog Day moment for Congress,’’ noting that similar House-passed bills “never went anywhere in the Senate, and it will meet the same fate again.’’
Underscoring the divisions in the California delegation over energy policy, Rep. Tom McClintock (R-Granite Bay) assailed the “ideological extremism’’ that has put the California coast off-limits to new energy exploration.
Drilling opponents, he said, “have had their way in California for a full generation. I’ve watched their folly take what once could boast of being America’s golden state and turn it into an economic basket case and a national laughingstock.’’
The California delegation broke along party lines with Republicans supporting the measure and Democrats opposing it, except for Rep. Jim Costa of Fresno, who voted yes. Reps. Karen Bass (D-Los Angeles), John Campbell (R-Irvine) and Devin Nunes (R-Tulare) did not vote.
The bill directs that new energy production in federal waters off Santa Barbara and Ventura counties occur only from existing offshore platforms or “onshore-based, extended-reach drilling.’’
The measure also would offer states 37.5% of the revenues from energy production off their coasts. That provision drew opposition from taxpayer watchdogs that said it would siphon off money the federal government needs.