WASHINGTON — Defying a White House veto threat, the Republican-controlled House on Friday approved a bill to lift a 40-year-old U.S. ban on crude oil exports. Supporters argued that an ongoing boom in oil and gas drilling has made the 1970s-era restrictions obsolete.
Industry proponents in Louisiana have said lifting the export ban would help U.S. producers fetch higher prices. Export supporters also have argued the U.S. doesn’t have enough refining capacity to handle the light, sweet crude oil being produced in this country. The light crude contains less sulfur and requires less refining than sour, high-sulfur crudes and could get a higher price on the global market.
The American Petroleum Institute, which represents big multinational oil companies, says repeal of the export ban could create more than 7,000 jobs in Louisiana by 2020. Louisiana ranks just 10th as a state in production from its own territory, but oil from federal offshore fields in the Gulf of Mexico accounts for a significant share of U.S. production and provides service jobs and other employment for Louisiana residents.
All House members from Louisiana voted to lift the ban.
The bill was approved, 261-159, with 26 Democrats joining Republicans in backing the measure that now heads to the Senate, where prospects are uncertain.
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said lifting the export ban would lower prices at the pump, create jobs and boost the economy.
“In my view, America’s energy boom has the potential to reset the economic foundation of our economy and improve our standing around the world,” Boehner said.
“This is about job creation, this is about American energy production, it’s about American energy security and it’s about having leverage in our foreign policy. That’s why I support this first step of lifting this ban on crude exports,” Rep. Charles W. Boustany Jr., R-La., said on the House floor.
Lifting the export ban also would strengthen national security and weaken economic and political rivals such as Russia, Iran and Venezuela, supporters said. The measure includes a Republican-sponsored amendment blocking crude exports to Iran.
The White House called the bill unnecessary and argued that a decision on whether to end the ban should be made by the Commerce secretary.
Instead of lifting the export ban, “Congress should be focusing its efforts on supporting our transition to a low-carbon economy” and ending billions of dollars a year in federal subsidies to oil companies, the White House said in a statement.
Opponents — mostly Democrats — said the bill would mainly benefit big oil companies at the expense of American consumers.
Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Fla., called it “an unconscionable giveaway to Big Oil,” while Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J., said it would boost annual profits for major oil producers by nearly $30 billion over the next decade.
Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., said the bill was not needed as long as the U.S. continues to import millions of barrels of oil every day. “Every barrel exported by this bill will have to be replaced by a barrel of imported oil,” she said.
The American Petroleum Institute, the oil industry’s top lobbying group, said the House vote “starts us down the path to a new era of energy security, saving consumers billions and creating jobs across the country.”
The Sierra Club, the nation’s largest environmental organization, countered that lifting the ban would lead to a “massive expansion of dangerous oil extraction,” from fracking in North Dakota’s Bakken shale region to drilling in the fragile Arctic Ocean.