This was a vote on an amendment by Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ) that would have prohibited oil companies from receiving offshore oil drilling permits that had not been approved by the Secretary of the Interior.
Specifically, the underlying bill required the Secretary of the Interior to approve or deny offshore oil drilling leases within 30 days of receiving an application. If the secretary failed to act on a permit within 60 days, the bill provided that the permit would be “deemed approved.” Thus, the bill effectively allowed drilling permits to be issued without the Interior Secretary’s approval. Holt’s amendment would have eliminated that provision from the bill.
Following the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, the Obama administration imposed an offshore drilling moratorium. The administration lifted that moratorium, however, in May 2010. Despite lifting the moratorium, however, Republicans argued that the administration had been too slow in approving leases for drilling, and contributed to high gasoline prices. The Obama administration (and many congressional Democrats) countered that it was seeking to improve drilling safety in order to prevent another oil spill disaster.
Holt urged support for his amendment: “H.R. 1229 [the underlying bill] includes language that would add a timeline to the permitting process for offshore oil and gas drilling. This provision states that, `If the Secretary has not made a decision on the application by the end of the 60-day period beginning on the date the application is received by the Secretary, the application is deemed approved.' My amendment would simply strike this section. In other words, as it stands in the legislation before us, if for whatever reason--incomplete information, new information--the Secretary has not made a decision whether or not to approve the application, then the application will be considered from then on approved. There are a number of provisions in this bill that could make offshore drilling less safe. My amendment is aimed at perhaps the most dangerous of those provisions. This bill short-circuits existing requirements to protect oil industry workers and those who depend on marine resources for their livelihoods and so forth. Ensuring that environmental and safety standards are met--so that the new permits will not result in a repeat of the Deepwater Horizon disaster--is really too important to allow permits to go through the door prematurely and automatically simply because of an arbitrary timeline imposed by this legislation.”
Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-CO) opposed the amendment: “The legislation on the floor today is designed to put Americans in the gulf region back to work and to ensure that permits are processed in a timely fashion and that bureaucratic delays are not hampering the nation's energy production….It's important that people understand that nowhere in this bill do we require the administration to do anything but reach a decision, whatever that decision might be. They may deny an application at any time in the process as long as they provide a clear description of why they are doing so….In the end, the administration must reach a decision. The provision this amendment proposes to remove is the final deadline that the administration must meet and one that should be firm to ensure that decisions are made in a timely manner….This amendment, if adopted, would simply further delay offshore energy production. It would continue to allow the Department to arbitrarily impose a de facto drilling moratorium that could cost thousands of jobs and allow higher prices on energy with less supply.
The House rejected this amendment by a vote of 179-247. Voting “yea” were 177 Democrats and 2 Republicans. 233 Republicans and 14 Democrats voted “nay.” As a result, the House rejected an amendment that would have prohibited oil companies from receiving offshore oil drilling permits that had not been approved by the Secretary of the Interior.