This vote was on an amendment that would have prevented oil companies from gaining access to newly opened federal territories – unless they agreed to renegotiate older leases that allowed them to drill in the Gulf of Mexico without paying royalties to the federal government.
Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA) offered the amendment to a Republican bill that would open vast new stretches of federally owned territory to energy exploration. The new areas included Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and areas off the U.S. coast.
Rep. Markey’s amendment would have used the new opportunity presented by the bill to renegotiate leases that some oil companies had purchased between 1996 and 2000. As a result of a court challenge, companies that purchased leases to drill on public land during that time do not have to pay royalties to the federal government.
Rep. Markey argued that this arrangement was unfair because oil companies were harvesting on publicly owned land and profiting handsomely thanks to high oil prices. His amendment said those companies could buy leases on the newly opened land only if they agreed to renegotiate the old leases and pay royalties to the American people.
“These companies get a complete windfall profit by paying no taxes for drilling off of the coastline of the United States, owned by the American people. What kind of plan can that be to make sure that we have sufficient funding in order to pay for Medicare, pay for kids going to college, pay for the research to find a cure for cancer?” Rep. Markey said. “Of all the companies that should be kicking in their fair share of the dues to run this country, it should be the companies who made $137 billion last year.”
Republicans argued that the arrangement would unfairly penalize companies that had invested millions of dollars in a risky search for oil on public land. They accused Democrats of trying to “extort” the oil companies into breaking old contracts. This would drive companies to look to other countries to explore for oil, they said.
“There is a very important principle here, and that is a contract is a contract. You abide by what you negotiate under the existing law,” Rep. Doc Hastings (R-WA) said. “Why would we want to jeopardize and send the wrong message to those who would want to take the risk and make the investments under this law? It would send a very, very wrong signal, in my view.”
Rep. Markey’s amendment was defeated by a vote of 183-238. Voting “yea” were 169 Democrats, including a majority of progressives, and 14 Republicans. Voting “nay” were 222 Republicans and 16 Democrats. As a result, the House defeated the attempt to prevent oil companies from drilling in newly opened federal territory unless they agreed to pay royalties for drilling in other federal territory.