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US House approves ANWR, offshore drilling prohibitions, but Senate passage unlikely

Highlights

Bill again bans ANWR drilling as Interior plans auction

Offshore vote comes as Trump administration's lease plan stalled

Without hope of becoming law, bills may be roadmap after elections

Washington — The US House of Representatives on Thursday passed a bill putting prohibitions on oil and natural gas drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge back in place a day after passing two bills that would block drilling in US Atlantic, Pacific, and eastern Gulf of Mexico waters.

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The bills stand virtually no chance of even being considered by the Republican-controlled Senate and would certainly be vetoed by President Trump if they reached his desk, but the votes show a likely legislative roadmap if Democrats were to see major wins in the 2020 federal elections.

"It's not a surprise to anyone that the House passed anti-energy legislation," said Christopher Guith, with the US Chamber of Commerce's Global Energy Institute. "However, it's difficult seeing 60 votes supporting those bills in the near future."

On Thursday, the House passed the Arctic Cultural and Coastal Plain Protection Act, HR 1146, which prohibits Interior's Bureau of Land Management from administering an oil and gas leasing, development, production, and transportation program in ANWR. The bill was passed by a 225-193 vote, which five Democrats voting against it and four Republicans voting for it. The bill was introduced by Representative Jared Huffman, Democrat-California.

A tax reform bill Trump signed into law in 2017 requires Interior to hold at least two lease sales in ANWR by the end of 2024. These sales must both offer at least 400,000 acres of the "highest hydrocarbon potential lands" within the Coastal Plain, and allow for 2,000 surface acres of federal land to be used for production and support facilities.

A spokesman for Interior's Bureau of Land Management said last week that an ANWR sale is still expected to be held late this year.

The House approved Wednesday the Coastal and Marine Economies Protection Act, HR 1941, which prohibits Interior from offering any oil and gas leases in all federal waters in the Atlantic, including the Straits of Florida, and the Pacific. The bill, introduced by Representative Joe Cunningham, Democrat-South Carolina, was approved by a 238-189 vote, with 12 Republicans voting for it and five Democrats voting against it.

In January 2018, the Interior Department unveiled a draft proposed leasing plan to open nearly all federal waters to oil and gas drilling, but the plan is on indefinite hold as the Trump administration appeals a federal judge's ruling that would block future offshore lease sales.

The House also passed Wednesday the Protecting and Securing Florida's Coastline Act, HR 205, by a 248-180 vote, with 22 Republicans voting for it and five Democrats voting against it. The bill, introduced by Francis Rooney, Republican-Florida, extends the current moratorium on oil and gas leasing in the eastern Gulf.

The oil and gas industry has lobbied for more access to the deepwater Norphlet trend, which straddles the border between eastern and central Gulf of Mexico waters. Much of the trend is subject to the moratorium, which expires in 2022.

In June, the House approved a series of amendments blocking offshore drilling along the East and West coasts and in the eastern Gulf of Mexico. Numerous environmental groups praised the passage of the bills this week, calling on the Senate to take them up.

-- Brian Scheid, brian.scheid@spglobal.com

-- Edited by Valarie Jackson, newsdesk@spglobal.com