WASHINGTON, D.C.-In the first of a series of proposals to boost domestic energy production, U.S. House Republicans passed legislation requiring the Obama administration to approve more offshore oil leases in the next year.
Thursday's vote was a response to lawmakers hearing an earful about soaring gas prices when they were back home for the past two weeks.
In Tennessee an average gallon of gas is now at $3.78, and in Georgia the average is now $3.88, according to the Oil Price Information Service.
"Our focus needs to be increasing supply. That's the number one priority of the House Republicans," said Rep. Tom Graves, R-Ga. "We've got to remove those defacto moratoriums that are in place."
In his recent address on energy policy, President Barack Obama told the country he too supports increasing domestic production in the near term.
In the aftermath of BP's Gulf of Mexico oil spill, his administration has been taking longer to conduct safety reviews before awarding new drilling leases. Democrats say the GOP legislation exposes the country to another catastrophic environmental disaster.
"The legislation before us represents a return to the pre-spill mentality of speed over safety," said Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass.
Republicans say speed is of the essence as turmoil in the Middle East is causing speculators to drive up the cost of oil.
"We clearly need to make sure that we get drilling going in the Gulf again, we get our natural gas production up," Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, R-Tenn., said before voting for the bill. "We've got the resources and we've just got to get out there and harvest them," he said.
Every Republican in Tennessee and Georgia supported the measure, as well as Reps. Jim Cooper, D-Tenn., Sanford Bishop, D-Ga., and John Barrow, D-Ga.
Democrats say they support expanding domestic oil drilling in the near term, but only if it's coupled with long- term policies to wean the nation off of fossil fuels.
"We must invest in our clean energy future, which will reduce our dependence on foreign oil," House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said in her floor speech. "[It] is a national security issue which will enable us to create new, green jobs in our country."
That logic doesn't sit well with the GOP.
"When I think of investment, I think of the private sector investing," Graves added. "I don't believe in government investing because that just means more spending and taxpayers are the ones holding the tab."
Next week the House is expected to take up two other measures to expedite domestic oil and gas production.