Lots of Action in Congress on the SPR

Analysis by Energy Workforce President Tim Tarpley

Energy Workforce President Tim Tarpley
Energy Workforce President Tim Tarpley

The House on Friday voted on a piece of legislation that would limit the President’s ability to make releases from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR), our nation’s emergency stockpile of oil, except in certain circumstances. The President has made the largest release from the SPR in history since the Russian invasion of Ukraine.  

President Biden has argued these moves were made in order to stabilize the world energy supply and ensure the United States had adequate fuel on hand. However, critics have pushed back hard on these contentions and have argued the move was purely a political one on behalf of the President and his party to lower gas prices before the midterm elections. 

Critics argue that the SPR was originally created as a national emergency stockpile, intended to be used in wartime or in other emergency scenarios where there was a worldwide disruption in supply. However, the language was somewhat vague and gives a great deal of discretion to the President in these matters, leading to Presidents increasingly using this tool in instances where arguably Congress didn’t originally intend. Critics also point to the fact that President Biden still hasn’t refilled the SPR from these releases and this is especially concerning given the ground war in Ukraine and the fact of that relations between Russia and NATO are at their lowest in decades. 

To address these concerns, the bill in the House would allow the President to make unilateral withdrawals in emergency circumstances but in other circumstances he or she would have to release a plan to increase federal leasing to refill the SPR with any withdrawal.

The bill in the House may end up being largely symbolic, as the President has indicated he will veto it should it pass in  the Senate. It appears unlikely that supporters of the legislation will have a two-thirds majority necessary to overturn a Presidential veto. Senators John Barrasso (R-WY) and Susan Collins (R-ME) are also introducing separate legislation to prohibit any SPR releases from being sold to China. Prospects of this bill moving forward in the Senate are unclear, but should it move forward, it would be another attempt to limit the way in which the President can manage the SPR. 

Tentative Deal Reached Between EPA and Environmental Groups on Air Pollution Rules

Earlier this week EPA announced it had reached a tentative legal agreement with environmental groups to review and potentially update air pollution rules for oil and gas producers in the coming three years. The rules, which also apply to natural gas transmission and storage facilities, are scheduled to be reviewed and updated every eight years. The rule sets limits for pollutants such as benzene and others that can contribute to smog. 

According to data released during the litigation, the rule could apply to 3,000 oil and gas production facilities, including 580 major sources, and cover more than 100 gas transmission and storage facilities, including 72 major sources.

Under the terms of the proposed consent decree, EPA would have until Dec. 10, 2024 to propose action and until Dec. 10, 2025 to finalize any rulemaking. EPA agreed to act more quickly on one specific legal issue in the rule — the inclusion of an “affirmative defense” provision against civil penalties for excess pollution emitted during equipment malfunctions. EPA has long been under pressure from environmental groups to limit the industry’s ability to use this defense. The next steps will be that the proposed consent decree will be open for public comment through February 23.

Energy Workforce plans to file comments to this action should there be interest from members. Please let me know at ttarpley@energyworkforce.org should you or somebody else in your company have interest. 


Tim Tarpley, President, analyzes federal policy for the Energy Workforce & Technology Council. Click here to subscribe to the Energy Workforce newsletter, which highlights sector-specific issues, best practices, activities and more.


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