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The Top 5 Myths About the Domestic Energy and Jobs Act | The Nation

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The Top 5 Myths About the Domestic Energy and Jobs Act

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While debating the Domestic Energy and Jobs Act (DEJA) on the House floor in June, Michigan Republican Fred Upton called the legislation a “win-win.” You might assume that the winning going on would benefit the American people, but as California Democrat Henry Waxman warned, H.R. 4480 is a Trojan horse. While the DEJA claims to be about creating jobs and lowering gas prices, the bill’s real goal is to dismantle the country’s environmental policies.

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Soumya Karlamangla
Soumya Karlamangla is a Summer 2012 intern at The Nation. She has written on climate change and the environment for the...

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Passed in June in the House, and currently in the Senate, the seven bills that make up the Domestic Energy and Jobs Act would be devastating to the environment. The radical package of bills aims to increase the land available for oil and gas drilling and dismantle the core of the existing Clean Air Act. (You can read what the seven bills are, and who introduced them here.) A staggering 248 House members voted for the DEJA, touting it as the solution for hard economic times. Here’s how they argued for its passage, and why they’re wrong.

1.  The bill will “lower future prices at the pump.” — Representative Fred Upton, chairman of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce

Representative Upton iterated on the House floor what all those in favor of the bill have said: if you pass this bill, gasoline will be cheaper. According to these representatives, the DEJA will do this by increasing domestic oil drilling.

One component of the DEJA, the Providing Leasing Certainty for American Energy Act, would require the Secretary of the Interior to open 25 percent of the land nominated for drilling up for lease each year. Another one of the bills, the Streamlining Permitting of American Energy Act, would require most drilling permits be deemed automatically approved after a sixty-day deadline. And the particularly absurd Strategic Energy Production Act, another bill in the package, would require that if a percentage of the oil supply in the Strategic Petroleum Reserve is removed, the same percentage of federal land must be opened for oil and gas exploration and production.

But as Democratic Representative Mike Doyle of Pennsylvania pointed out on the House floor, domestic oil production is currently at an eight-year high. The number of oilrigs in the country has quadrupled under Obama, and US oil imports are at a seventeen-year low.

So why are oil and gas prices still rising? Because drilling more isn’t the answer. Even though US oil production is up and consumption is down, global demand for oil is continues to rise. Dean Baker, macroeconomist and co-founder of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, explains that even if US oil production could be upped by a third, which is almost impossible, the world supply would only increase by 3 percent, lowering the price of oil by 7 or 8 percent. “This is not trivial, but it is not the difference between $2 a gallon gas and $4 a gallon gas,” Baker writes. “In other words, there is nothing that the United States can do in terms of its domestic production that would bring gas prices down to the levels that would make many American car owners happy.”

2. “Nothing in this prevents the EPA from protecting the public health and the environment.” — Colorado Republican Cory Gardner, bill co-sponsor 

Say hello to the Gasoline Regulations Act, easily the most offensive bill in the package. The American Lung Association has dubbed it the “Gutting Air Standard Protections Act,” since you’ll be GASPing for clean air if it passes, because it undercuts the Clean Air Act, bedrock of the nation’s environmental protections. 

The Clean Air Act requires that the Environmental Protection Agency set standards for clean air—for instance, the amount of soot or smog that can be in the air—based on science, and science alone. Introduced by Kentucky Republican Ed Whitfield, the GASP Act would ask the EPA to define healthy air based in part on what it would cost for the polluting industries to cut back on their pollution. 

Passed more than forty years ago with bipartisan support and signed into law by a Republican president, the Clean Air Act is widely known to have saved thousands of lives because it dictates what is healthy for people to breathe. As it is now, the method by which pollution is ultimately combated takes economic factors into account, but the GASP Act would demand that future revisions to the EPA’s national clean air standards take into account what polluters say it would cost to reduce pollution. The EPA would not be able to accurately tell Americans what level of pollution is healthy for them to breathe, because they’d have to account for costs in creating their standard. Even for legislators who aren’t historically pro-environment, this is a huge shift.

Legislators argue that the GASP Act could lower gas prices by limiting the costs associated with lowering pollution. There’s no proof coming from GASP supporters that gas prices will in fact be lowered, and that’s because no research has been done to support this. GASP supporters say the bill simply mandates such a study and doesn’t take any action, but while the bill does ask for a study, it also requires that the EPA take into account cost and feasibility when determining air standards.

And here’s cherry on top of the all of this: it’s unconstitutional.

John Walke of the Natural Resources Defense Council pointed out that in 2001 the Supreme Court unanimously agreed that the Clean Air Act "unambiguously bars cost considerations from the [air quality standard]-setting process.” Whitfield’s bill not only appeases Big Oil companies and puts Americans at risk, it also goes disregards the opinion of a whole branch of our government. 

3. “This bill today is about jobs.” — Majority Whip California Republican Kevin McCarthy

House Republicans have consistently used the term “job creation” as a smokescreen for increasing oil production while trying to sell the Domestic Energy and Jobs Act. When the bill was first introduced to the House it was called the “Strategic Energy Production Act,” and there was no mention of jobs at all.

These legislators argue that an increase in drilling on federal land will create jobs. But as California Democrat John Garamendi pointed out, job creation is merely a possible, and unlikely, byproduct of bills that are actually focused on putting more land in the hands of oil companies. Representative Garamendi explained on the House floor that acquiring land is a financial game for oil companies to make it appear like they have more assets. 

In March 2011, there were 38 million acres of land under lease for drilling, but 22 million of those acres were inactive, meaning more than half was unused. A similar 70 percent of offshore acres were also inactive. These companies aren’t getting more land to get men to work on or even increase drilling, they’re doing it just for the sake of having more assets. Even if these bills go into effect and more land is opened, much of the land will likely remain untouched, netting few jobs. 

Beyond that, these bills actively shut down many other avenues that could also lead to jobs. As Representative Waxman pointed out, thousands of jobs are delayed because the GASP Act halted environmental standards that would have created new jobs.

4. “This act truly embraces an all-of-the-above approach that our country so desperately needs.” — Arizona Republican Paul Gosar 

The second part of this statement is true. We do need an all-of-the-above approach to energy, but that’s not what this bill does. Most of the bills focus on opening more land up to drilling, and there’s nothing in it about renewable energy. The bill makes it clear that the scope of discussion of the country's energy bill was to be "the development of a plan to increase oil and gas exploration, development, and production." On the House floor, Representative Markey said after he tried to introduce an amendment to discuss setting a national renewable energy goal, the Republicans put a gag order on it. “There's been a lot of discussion of the DREAM Act recently, but the bill we have before us today is really the Big Oil dream act,” Markey said. 

So why all this deference to Big Oil? Follow the money. The Domestic Energy and Jobs Act won wide Republican support; only nineteen of the 248 that voted to pass the bill were Democrats. In the current House, the average Republican has received $23,267 from oil and gas companies over their careers as congressmen, while the average Democrat has received $9,336. 

The Republicans who sponsored the Domestic Energy and Jobs Act, like Colorado’s Cory Gardner and Representative Whitfield, and those who spoke strongly in favor of the bill, like Texas’s Mike Conaway, Representative McCarthy, Alaska’s Don Young and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, all have received more than $300,000 from oil and gas companies over their Congressional careers. Representatives Young and Conaway have taken in $1,000,000 and $800,000, respectively. 

Of the nineteen Democrats who voted for the bill, most receive more from oil and gas than even the average Republican, the highest being Arkansas’s Mike Ross and Utah’s Jim Matheson, both bringing in around $350,000 during their careers.

5. The bill will “restore the American Dream for future generations.” — Texas Republican Bill Flores 

Representative Waxman sums up the DEJA well: “The bill will keep dirty gasoline on the market, allow oil refineries to spew toxic emissions, and forestall action to address climate change.” If the House had its way, the “future generations” would be—to put it bluntly—pretty screwed.

The sitting Republican-controlled House is the most anti-environment in the history of Congress. In 2011 and the first half of 2012, the House voted 247 times to dismantle environmental protections, according to a report released by Representatives Waxman and Markey in late June. That averages to one anti-environment vote for every day the house was in session. Of those 247, the House voted 109 times to enrich—you guessed it—the oil and gas industry.

The current Senate ignores most of these bills, and President Obama has already promised he wouldn’t sign the Domestic Energy and Jobs Act if it made it out of the Senate. But Representative Markey issued a warning on the House floor: “My colleagues, the short title of this bill, the Domestic Energy and Jobs Act, spells out the word D-E-J-A. But what we're seeing here is not just deja vu, the feeling that we've seen all these Big Oil giveaways before,” Markey said. “No, this bill is a deja preview, a look ahead into what the Romney administration would do if elected and had a GOP House and Senate to fully implement the oil companies' legislative agenda and block all efforts to help clean energy.” Here’s to hoping that doesn’t happen.

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