Defying a White House veto threat, the Republican-controlled House on Friday approved a bill to lift a 40-year-old U.S. ban on crude oil exports. Supporters argued that an ongoing boom in oil and gas drilling has made the 1970s-era restrictions obsolete.
The bill was approved, 261-159, with 26 Democrats joining Republicans in backing the measure that now heads to the Senate, where prospects are uncertain. The leader of the House, Speaker John Boehner, a Republican, said lifting the export ban would lower gas prices, create jobs and boost the economy.
"In my view, America's energy boom has the potential to reset the economic foundation of our economy and improve our standing around the world," Boehner said. Rep. Fred Upton, a Republican and chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said times have changed and that U.S. policy should embrace a new reality of energy abundance.
"While the (Obama) administration claims to support an all-of-the-above energy policy, their actions don't match the rhetoric," Upton said. Lifting the export ban also would strengthen national security and weaken economic and political rivals such as Russia, Iran and Venezuela, supporters said. The measure includes a Republican-sponsored amendment blocking crude exports to Iran.
The White House called the bill unnecessary and argued that a decision on whether to end the ban should be made by the commerce secretary. Instead of lifting the export ban, "Congress should be focusing its efforts on supporting our transition to a low-carbon economy" and ending billions of dollars a year in federal subsidies to oil companies, the White House said in a statement.
Opponents — mostly Democrats — said the bill would mainly benefit big oil companies at the expense of American consumers. Rep. Jan Schakowsky, a Democrat, said the bill was not needed as long as U.S. continues to import millions of barrels of oil every day. "Every barrel exported by this bill will have to be replaced by a barrel of imported oil," she said.
Rep. Luke Messer, R-Indiana, sponsored the amendment blocking crude exports to Iran. Messer, who opposed the recent nuclear agreement hashed out between Iran, the United States and five other world powers, said Iran should not benefit from expanded U.S. oil production.
The American Petroleum Institute, the oil industry's top lobbying group, said the House vote "starts us down the path to a new era of energy security, saving consumers billions and creating jobs across the country."
The Sierra Club, the nation's largest environmental organization, countered that lifting the ban would lead to a "massive expansion of dangerous oil extraction," from fracking in North Dakota's Bakken shale region to drilling in the fragile Arctic Ocean.