ABC News’ John R. Parkinson reports:
As gasoline prices approach record levels and the summer driving season quickly approaches, the House of Representatives is likely to take up three bills aimed at increasing domestic energy production when Congress reconvenes May 2 from its two-week recess.
With the average price of gasoline across the United States now standing at $3.84 per gallon, Rep. Doc Hastings, the chairman of the Committee on Natural Resources, moved three bills through his committee last week that he says would take the ease off American consumers at the pump.
One measure would compel the Department of the Interior to move more quickly on offshore drilling permit requests by requiring a decision on the applications within 30 days. Another bill would force the administration to sell oil-and-gas leases along the Atlantic and Pacific coasts, while Hastings says a third would set a deadline for sales of leases in the Gulf of Mexico in areas where drilling is already permitted.
“The bottom line of all three of those bills is that it would send a very strong signal to the markets that the United States is serious about not being dependant on foreign oil, and I think that would have a price effect on world-wide oil,” Hastings, R-Wash., said. “This deals with the permits that were active before the moratorium. Let’s get those settled so that we can get back into production sooner rather than later.”
Hastings told ABC News that high gasoline prices are having a negative impact on the economic recovery and if Congress and the White House do not act to increase domestic production, American drivers could see gasoline prices continue to climb as the peak driving season approaches.
“Gasoline prices may be going to $5 or $6 a gallon. That’s the impact [of inaction],” Hastings said. “That’s certainly is not good for an economy that is trying to recover. You raise the price of transportation and energy, which is exactly what this does — that’s going to have a dampening effect on the recovery of our economy, so it becomes a kind of a two-for, if you will. You have rising prices just to get around, but you have a negative effect on getting our economy to recover.”
One factor contributing to high gas prices is market speculation from gas retailers worried that the political unrest in the Middle East will cut off supply.
But Monday, Saudi Arabia’s oil minister said the global market is oversupplied, dampening hopes that OPEC will boost its output and bring prices down. Crude oil was trading for more than $107 per barrel early Tuesday.
“We’ve been in this situation allowing the cartel to kind of dictate to us what we should be paying and I just simply think that’s the wrong policy,” Hastings said. “What it clearly shows is that as a policy in this country, we have to have an energy policy that utilizes the resources that we have in this country. And I’m talking about the Gulf of Mexico – the de facto moratorium has had a negative effect on our production, and I believe that we should go to the offshore, the outer continental shelf on both the Pacific coast and the Atlantic Coast.”
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., has indicated he favors the trio of bills, and a senior House Republican leadership aide says it is “very likely” that the House will quickly take up the committee’s legislations when lawmakers return from recess.
“We’re ready to debate those issues on the floor and hopefully move them through the House,” Hastings said. “I suspect if all three of those bills are brought to the floor of the House, they would pass, in which case it would go to the Senate, and hopefully they could act quickly and the president could get involved in this debate, but he certainly hasn’t been to this point.”
“I suspect that gas prices are rising in every state that a senator represents. They’re certainly rising in my district,” Hastings added. “They are a solution and a start to sending a signal that we need to become less dependent on foreign energy.”
Hastings, a nine-term congressman, said the Obama administration deserves part of the blame for rising prices and said he’d grade President Obama “practically a D or an F” on his energy policies.
“It’s because of their policies, frankly of locking up all those resources, that we’re in situation,” Hastings said. “I don’t say this lightly, but when the president speaks he sounds good, but when he acts he’s 180 degrees from what he says, and actions speak louder than words, and actions are what has an impact on our policy. So, I think this administration has been very, very deficient in trying to make us become less energy dependent on foreign sources.”