This was a vote on final passage of Republican legislation that would open vast new stretches of federally owned territory to energy exploration.
The legislation would open publicly owned areas such as Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, oil shale deposits in the Rocky Mountains, and much of the U.S. coastline to oil and gas exploration. It would also override President Obama’s denial of a permit to build a controversial oil pipeline. The pipeline would connect oilfields in Alberta, Canada, to markets in the United States. Environmental groups were concerned about the potential for oil spills and its impact on greenhouse gas emissions. Republicans successfully passed legislation in late 2011 requiring a quick decision on the project’s permit, and the White House responded by rejecting the application on the grounds that there would not be time for a full assessment.
Republicans argued that the bill was needed to help expand domestic production of energy. That would help bring down fuel prices, reduce the federal budget deficit, and reduce America’s dependence on foreign sources of energy, they argued.
"Since this President took office … gasoline prices have climbed by 91 percent. Meanwhile, Iran is threatening to close off the Strait of Hormuz, which is responsible for transportation of almost 17 million barrels of oil a day, or 20 percent of all oil traded,” Rep. Doc Hastings (R-WA) said. “Prices will only climb higher if we don't take action now to increase our energy independence and develop our own energy resources.”
Democrats called the bill a massive giveaway to the oil industry. They said the bill would sacrifice some of the most pristine areas of the country and jeopardize other sectors of the economy just to allow oil companies to reap profits.
“Subsidizing the oil industry in 2012 to drill for oil is like subsidizing fish to swim or birds to fly: You don't have to do it. The consumer is already doing it at the pump. They're being tipped upside down,” Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA) said. “The oil industry right now is having it both ways. They're getting tax breaks from the taxpayers at the same time that they're taking the other pocket of every American as consumers, and they're taking money out of that pocket as well.”
The Republican bill was passed by a vote of 237-187. Voting “yea” were 216 Republicans and 21 Democrats. Voting “nay” were 166 Democrats, including a majority of progressives, and 21 Republicans. As a result, the House approved legislation that would open vast new stretches of federally owned territory to energy exploration. However, to become law, the bill would first need to be passed by the Democratic-controlled Senate and signed by the president.