ENERGY POLICY:

Increasing fuel supply concerns prompt GOP to act on energy

House Republicans, unsatisfied by the Interior Department's approval this week of a new deepwater drilling permit in the Gulf of Mexico and nervous about the impact that political unrest in the Middle East will have on domestic oil supplies and prices, are buckling down to work on an energy policy that will increase domestic oil and gas production and reduce dependence on foreign oil.

At least one measure, from Rep. Tim Murphy of Pennsylvania and 21 other Republicans, has already been introduced. And Reps. Doc Hastings of Washington and Ed Whitfield of Kentucky say other action on energy will happen soon.

The Murphy measure would force Interior to immediately advance more than 30 offshore drilling project applications that have been stalled since last year's oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. The permits were approved before the administration imposed a moratorium on drilling last summer and changed drilling safety requirements, Murphy said.

"By allowing previously approved permits to safely move forward, we can begin to reduce our dependence on foreign oil and lower gas prices for hardworking American families," Murphy said in a statement.

The measure has already generated a buzz within the GOP, and it has nearly two dozen backers, including some of Murphy's fellow members of the Energy and Commerce Committee and Gulf state lawmakers.

Hastings, who chairs the House Natural Resources Committee, said a limited measure like Murphy's has a strong chance of moving in the next few months, as opposed to a broad energy package.

"If anything we have learned ... that these big bills aren't popular with the public," Hastings told reporters in the Capitol yesterday afternoon. He said talks are ongoing among Republican leaders on energy policy about how negotiations should proceed but his preference is for "more individual types of legislation similar to what Congressman Murphy's are."

As for specifics, Hastings said he is still "looking at all options."

Whitfield, chairman of the Energy and Power Subcommittee, said members of the Energy and Commerce Committee, too, are "exploring different ideas" and that he hopes to see legislation passed before the summer.

"We're trying to get focused on supply, and this summer we don't want people running around having to pay $5 [a gallon] for gasoline," he said yesterday. "We're trying to look at the different approaches and try to come up with what is the most effective, reasonable, quick way to get it done."

Whitfield, who is a co-sponsor of Murphy's bill, added that the committee will hold hearings on energy issues "relatively soon."

"Initially we were going to do that first out of the box, and then various things happened," Whitfield said. But "we've got to with these ever-increasing oil prices and gas prices. We've got to start getting focused on the supply."

Democratic moves

On the Democratic side, Rep. Bruce Braley of Iowa also introduced an energy measure yesterday that would eliminate tax breaks for oil companies and use the funds to extend tax credits for biofuels.

The measure draws on a concept touted by the Obama administration both in its fiscal 2012 budget request and in the president's State of the Union address.

"Big oil companies are making record profits and at the same time, they're collecting tax breaks from the government," Braley said in a statement. "If we end just a few of these tax breaks, we can create good-paying jobs in Iowa and still have funds left over to reduce our national deficit by billions."

The ethanol and biodiesel tax credits would be extended through 2016. They are currently slated to expire at the end of this year.

Reporter Sarah Abruzzese contributed.

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