WASHINGTON - The House Natural Resources Committee approved a bill Wednesday to allow oil drilling in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, attempting to expand U.S. energy production beyond a five-year plan recently released by the Obama administration.
Congress lifted a formal block on drilling in the Atlantic and Pacific in 2008, but the Obama administration hasn't yet allowed oil companies to buy drilling leases in those areas. Instead, the administration has directed companies to explore in the oil-rich Gulf of Mexico and plans to open up the Arctic Ocean.
The bill has almost no chance of passing the Democrat-led Senate, but it is part of a broader Republican strategy to portray President Barack Obama as an enemy of domestic oil drilling in an election year.
The bill, introduced by committee Chairman Doc Hastings (R., Wash.), would force the federal government to hold nearly twice as many drill-lease auctions from now until 2017 as the Obama administration has proposed. It would also force the government to open up areas that have been off-limits for several decades.
The bill passed by a vote of 24 to 17.
Drilling in the federal waters of the Pacific is widely opposed by lawmakers in those coastal states. Drilling in the Atlantic, however, is supported by many in the area. Virginia lawmakers have been particularly vocal about their support for drilling off their shores.
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