The GOP has put forward legislation to increase domestic oil and natural gas production in response to President Joe Biden’s decisions to pull from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR) to stabilize skyrocketing gas prices.
After several prominent Democrats submitted a request that Biden pull from the SPR, the president obliged and announced his intention to draw from the nation’s oil reserves, which are usually reserved for worst-case scenarios.
The SPR began in the mid-1970s in response to a severe shortage of oil caused by an Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) embargo. Lawmakers created the reserve to ensure that such severe fuel shortages would not happen again in the future.
And since then, the SPR’s supply has rarely been tapped.
The U.S. government granted some of its oil reserves to Israel during the 1970s, and the SPR was also depleted after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005. Still, these uses remain rare, as the U.S. government has been hesitant to use the supply when not strictly necessary.
Given the strategic importance of the reserve and the rarity of its use, Biden’s decision to withdraw from the SPR to stabilize rising fuel prices was heavily criticized, with big names like former President Donald Trump and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) jumping into the fray.
Now, Republicans have put forward a more concrete objection: the Strategic Production Response Act.
Conceptualized by senior Republicans on the House Energy Committee, the legislation would require that the secretary of energy to develop a plan to increase oil production on federal lands if the president pulls from the SPR for non-emergency reasons.
“The Strategic Petroleum Reserve was created by Congress to respond to oil supply disruptions that may arise after a natural disaster or war,” said Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), the ranking member on the Energy and Commerce panel.
“The SPR is not supposed to be tapped as a bailout for the president’s anti-fossil fuel agenda, which has led to the highest gas prices in seven years,” McMorris Rodgers added.
This jab at the president’s energy policy fits into a larger dispute between Republicans and Democrats.
It is uncontested that gas prices are already high and rising fast. According to the most recent data from Labor Department’s Consumer Price Index, October saw a 30 percent increase in the price of all sources of energy while the price of gasoline itself increased by a staggering 49.6 percent.
But the reasons for this staggering increase are contested by Democrats and Republicans.
Democrats have blamed collusion by OPEC, which has reduced fuel production over the past several months in order to raise prices. Biden has undertaken extensive negotiations with the organization, but these have largely been fruitless.
Republicans, while agreeing that OPEC has played a part in the crisis, have placed the blame squarely on Biden’s “anti-American” domestic energy policies.
Since taking office, Biden has made extensive changes to the energy policies of his predecessor, who led America to becoming energy independent for the first time in decades. Biden, who promised during his campaign to “transition away from the fossil fuel industry,” wasted no time in halting construction on the Keystone XL pipeline and placing a moratorium on leasing federal lands to natural gas and oil companies.
According to Republican critics, it is these policies in conjunction with OPEC collusion that have caused fuel prices to skyrocket.
And for the sponsors of the Strategic Production Response Act, simply pulling from the nation’s strategic reserves will not be enough to pull the nation out of the crisis.
“Releasing oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve is not a long-term solution to help hard-working families devastated by these failed policies,” said McMorris Rodgers. “The Biden administration must end its hostility to producing energy here at home, and reverse the policies that have led to the cancellation of critical pipelines and endless permitting delays.”
Republican critics of Biden’s energy policies are joined by a Democratic ally, moderate Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), who has broken with his party with increasing frequency in recent months and called on Biden to restart construction on the Keystone XL pipeline.
In a statement addressed to Biden, Manchin wrote: “I continue to call on President Biden to responsibly increase energy production here at home and to reverse course to allow the Keystone XL pipeline to be built which would have provided our country with up to 900,000 barrels of oil per day from Canada, one of our closest allies.”
Manchin broke with his newfound Republican allies by calling the decision to pull from the SPR “an important policy Band-Aid for rising gas prices” but warned that the deeper problem lay with the “self-inflicted wound” caused by Biden’s “shortsighted energy policy.”
Bill Unlikely to Become Law, But Useful for Electioneering
Still, the new GOP bill will face some difficult challenges to pass.
First, House Republicans will need to be totally on board with the bill, as well as win the support of at least 5 Democrats, for the bill to get off the ground.
If the legislation passes the House, it will face an even steeper challenge in the Senate, where Democrats could filibuster the bill; In that case, Republicans would need 10 Democrats to join them in ordering cloture on debate to allow for a simple-majority passage of the legislation.
Finally, the bill will have to get through Biden. Because the policies go against his own professed policies, Biden is exceedingly unlikely to be on board with the legislation.
Thus, the bill is unlikely to pass into law, but for the GOP it could still serve a symbolic purpose.
As the nation approaches the 2022 midterms, issues arising from the energy shortage, supply chain issues, and rampant inflation facing the nation are likely to be front and center for Republican candidates.
Even if it is unlikely to pass, the legislation could serve the interests of some Republican candidates by forcing Democrats to vote against increasing domestic energy production even while prices continue to shoot up.