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The House Just Did The Oil Industry A Huge Favor

Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX) sponsored the bill to repeal the oil export ban. CREDIT: AP PHOTO/ EVAN VUCCI
Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX) sponsored the bill to repeal the oil export ban. CREDIT: AP PHOTO/ EVAN VUCCI

The Republican-led House of Representatives voted Friday afternoon to lift the oil export ban, setting up a potential fight in the Senate and eventual veto from the White House.

Big Oil has been campaigning heavily for a repeal, as oil and gas prices have fallen globally, but opponents say that in fact lifting the ban will increase America’s dependence on foreign oil — and encourage more drilling and fracking in the United States. Environmentalists said Friday that the House move was simply kowtowing to fossil fuel interests during a time of political upheaval.

“The Republican party is in chaos right now,” Radha Adhar, a federal policy representative for the Sierra Club, told ThinkProgress, referring to the ongoing deliberations for a House speaker. “It appears that the only thing they can get unity on among their membership is that they support big polluter giveaways.”

The bill passed the House 261–169, with the support of only 26 Democrats.

During deliberations, Rep. Jack Pallone (D-NJ) called the repeal “a poorly crafted bill that needlessly and recklessly sweeps away 40 years of critical energy protections for national security, our economy, consumers, and the environment.”

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Most Americans, according to polls, do not want the oil export ban to be lifted. While it’s considered a step in the wrong direction on the development of fossil fuels, it also raises concerns for many consumers that oil and gas prices will go up once the American product hits the global market.

“There are, of course, the environmental and climate impacts of lifting the export ban. Energy policy is fundamentally linked to environmental policy,” he said.

It is unclear whether the repeal will make it through the Senate. While Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Sen. Heidi Heikamp (D-ND) have cosponsored a companion bill, there is not broad support for its passage, Adhar said.

The White House this week offered strong words against lifting the ban.

“Legislation to remove crude export restrictions is not needed at this time. Rather, Congress should be focusing its efforts on supporting our transition to a low-carbon economy. It could do this through a variety of measures, including ending the billions of dollars a year in Federal subsidies provided to oil companies and instead investing in wind, solar, energy efficiency, and other clean technologies to meet America’s energy needs,” the Obama administration said in a statement. The president would be advised to veto a bill, if it were to reach his desk, the statement said.

Environmentalists took the White House’s words as as encouraging sign.

“This is an incredibly strong signal that the pathway to lifting this ban is going to be a long, rocky one that ultimately, we think, will fail,” Adhar said.