WASHINGTON The Interior Department may not be able to grant leases for oil shale development in 2008 based on an amendment that narrowly passed the House on Wednesday.
By a 219-215 vote, the House amended the Interior spending bill to prohibit the BLM from issuing any oil shale regulations or offering any oil shale leases in 2008 as a way to slow down development until more is known about environmental impacts of areas where the resource might be developed.
The House passed the entire $28 billion Interior Spending bill.
Amendment sponsor Rep. Mark Udall, D-Colo., said he does not want the BLM to rush into developing oil shale when companies have said the technology can't yet fully develop the oil for use. He also had specific concerns about areas in Colorado where the development would take place.
He said his amendment, which is not in the Senate version of the spending bill, would put oil shale development "on a gentler and more sustainable route."
Republicans objected on the floor to the amendment's passage, saying the time allotted to vote was purposely left open to affect the outcome, which violates House rules. But the presiding member said the vote was left open to count those votes thathad already been cast to make sure the later votes did not change the outcome.
Rep. Chris Cannon, R-Utah, demanded a second vote on the Udall amendment, but it passed again by a couple more votes, 216-210.
Cannon offered an amendment that would have allowed states that want to develop oil shale to be allowed to do it, but the House rejected it.
"On the very day that Hugo Chavez took greater control of world oil supply, the House took a major step backward in the development of our very own sources of oil," Cannon said in a statement. "Cowed by the environmental lobby, the majority today voted to put the plug back into one of the most promising and viable new sources of oil we have in the entire nation the oil shale we have right here in Utah."
He emphasized on the floor that just because people in Colorado object to the development, "it does not make sense" for Utah not to move forward on oil shale.
"It is unfortunate that some politicians out West have given in to 'wisdom from Washington' instead of expanding opportunities for their citizens and energy independence for America," Cannon said.
Rep. Rob Bishop objected to Udall's amendment from another angle: money.
"My kids in Utah will be put at a disadvantaged because of this particular amendment," Bishop said on the floor next to a U.S. map showing education spending percentages.
He said that any bill that stops potential development leases from going through "harms education in the West" by limiting the money that could come to the state and be put toward education. He noted that Utah is at a disadvantage because of the large amount of federal and untaxable land in the state, so oil shale development could be a good source of revenue.
Meanwhile, the House also approved an amendment by Bishop that would stop federal land agencies from using funds contained in the annual spending bill to condemn private land, which Bishop says would protect private property near public land."While there are legitimate uses for eminent domain, the Department of the Interior too often uses the threat of condemnation to persuade landowners into becoming 'willing sellers.' This amendment removes that threat and protects our constituents," Bishop said.