House Budget: More Exemptions and Lower Payments for Big Oil

In the latest issue of The Watcher, OMB Watch discusses (here and here) the recently passed House budget and the many non-budget provisions attached to it, including the anti-environmental riders that prevent the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and other agencies from doing this or that. For example, House lawmakers thought it best to approve amendments preventing the EPA from implementing greenhouse gas limits on major carbon polluters or finishing a rule curbing particulate matter pollution.

But just as interesting are some of the riders that were voted down. An amendment that would have limited oil and gas companies’ ability to pillage public resources without paying royalties to the government was rejected. In fact, the vote wasn’t even close, 174-251, with 25 Democrats joining 226 Republicans in voting down the measure.

Royalty waivers are granted to companies in an attempt to incentivize deepwater drilling in the Gulf. (Yes, like the kind BP was conducting at the Deepwater Horizon rig.) However, the waivers were supposed to expire when energy prices rose. “But in a now-infamous and expensive goof, the Department of Interior left the price ceilings out of leases issued in 1998 and 1999, thereby allowing royalty-free production at any oil and natural-gas price,” according to The Hill energy and environment blog.

The amendment, introduced by Rep. Edward Markey (D-MA), would have attempted to fix the error by essentially prohibiting Interior from spending money to issue new leases to companies enjoying the waiver unless the flaw was corrected.

With oil prices hovering around $100/barrel and companies like Exxon posting big profits, it is ridiculous that 251 representatives would support allowing them to fleece American taxpayers out of billions of dollars more. Of course, unlike us regular folk, Congress will be getting some of that money back in the form of campaign contributions. I wonder if there’s a connection there…

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