House Passes Bills To Fine Drilling Protesters, Squelch Federal Oversight Of Fracking

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"House Passes Bills To Fine Drilling Protesters, Squelch Federal Oversight Of Fracking"

Oil Pump Jack

CREDIT: AP Photo/Ed Andrieski

The House of Representatives on Wednesday passed two bills that would, among other things, impose a $5,000 filing fee on any individual that wanted to file an official protest of a drilling project, and take authority away from the federal government to regulate hydraulic fracturing in states that already have their own fracking rules.

The bills — H.R. 2728 and H.R. 1965 — have little to no chance of passing the Senate, and President Obama has already pledged to veto the bills if they come to his desk. The reality that the House was wasting time on legislation extremely unlikely to become law made for a visibly tense situation on the sparsely populated House floor, with some Democratic Representatives complaining that their time could have been used to pass comprehensive immigration reform, or a farm bill to support a struggling agriculture industry.

“The galleries are empty, the floor is empty, because we’re not doing anything,” Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD) said on the floor. “And it’s not because we don’t have a lot of things to do.”

Hoyer went on the lament the fact that despite the House having six full days left of session until recess, there would be no budget conference, fiscal policy, or immigration reform brought to the floor. “And yet we have time to consider bills that have no impact. Partisan, confrontational, no-consensus pieces of legislation,” he said.

Rep. Michael Burgess (R-TX) responded to those comments and similar statements made by Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA), saying the American people intentionally elected a Republican majority in order to hear these types of bills. “The American people went to the polls and in their wisdom elected divided government. They knew what divided government looked liked,” he said, noting that the President’s health care law was passed without any Republican support. “I won’t apologize for any action that’s been taken by the majority of this house to try to reign in the excesses of this administration.”

H.R. 1965, the Federal Lands Jobs and Energy Security Act, provides that onshore drilling permits would be automatically approved if the U.S. Department of Interior (DOI) failed to act on them in 60 days. The bill would also impose a $5,000 fee on anyone who wanted to file an official protest of a proposed drilling project, and would direct the DOI to begin commercial leasing for the development of oil shale, a controversial type of production that has been largely banned by the United States. Oil shale — which should not be confused with the more common “shale oil” — is a type of rock that needs to be heated to nearly 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit to produce crude oil, which then has to be refined.

That bill passed the House 228-192, with seven Democratic votes in support. One Republican voted against the bill.

The House also rejected an amendment to H.R. 1965 proposed by Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX), which would have clarified the $5000 protest filing fee to make sure it would not be construed as a violation of the First Amendment.

H.R. 2728, the Protecting States’ Rights to Promote American Energy Security Act, would made fracking a states-only game. Unless a state has not passed any laws regarding fracking, the U.S. Department of Interior — the agency responsible for conservation of most federal land and natural resources — would have no say in whether companies disclose chemicals in fracking fluid; whether water that comes back up from fracked wells is polluted; or whether people can request public hearings on fracking permit applications.

That bill passed the House 235-187, with twelve Democratic votes in support, and two Republican votes against.

During that session, the House also voted to schedule debate and votes on the Natural Gas Pipeline Permitting Reform Act, which would give the federal government one year to approve new natural gas pipelines, or else they would be automatically approved. That bill is scheduled to come up for an official floor vote on Thursday.

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