Dozens of House Democrats joined Republicans on Thursday to pass legislation that would prevent the Biden administration from selling any more oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR) to China or Chinese-owned companies.
The House easily passed the bill in an 331-97 vote. Every Republican voted for it, and 113 Democrats – more than half of the House Democratic caucus – joined the GOP.
It was the second vote this week that saw large numbers of Democrats help House Republicans pass legislation. Two days earlier, more than two-thirds of House Democrats voted with Republicans to create a committee to address U.S. strategic competition with China.
The bill was brought up by Republicans after the Biden administration’s decision last year to sell nearly 1 million barrels of oil from the SPR to Unipec America, a U.S.-based company owned by China. The Department of Energy announced that sale in April 2022, and Republicans warned on the House floor that it makes no sense to deliver vast energy resources to entities controlled by America’s largest competitor.
“America’s Strategic Petroleum Reserve is meant for true energy supply disruptions, like those caused by hurricanes and natural disasters, not to help China,” said Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., who will chair the House Energy and Commerce Committee in the new Congress.
“Draining our strategic reserves for political purposes and selling portions of it to China is a significant threat to our national security,” she said. “The administration is not just hurting our own ability to respond to emergencies and national security events, they are actively bolstering the oil reserves of our most dangerous geopolitical adversary: the Chinese Communist Party.”
The Biden administration has released more than 200 million barrels from the SPR to ease rising energy prices in the U.S. over the last year, and McMorris Rodgers said those releases were designed to “cover up his failed policies driving our energy and inflation crises.”
She added that some of the oil that was not sold directly to Chinese-owned entities ended up in China’s hands.
“As we know, much of that oil went to China because our refineries and pipelines are full. It now has nowhere to go here,” she said. “Millions more barrels went to overseas traders who eventually sent it to China. We also know that China is ramping up its purchases of crude oil from Russia and the U.S. to boost its own reserves.”
The bill says the Energy secretary shall not sell SPR reserves to any entity under the control of the Chinese government, “except on the condition that such petroleum products will not be exports to the People’s Republic of China.”
While most Democrats voted for the bill, the debate featured only Democrats who tried to dismiss it by saying sales to China are the GOP’s fault because congressional Republicans in 2015 lifted the longstanding ban on crude oil.
“As a result, our exports of crude oil to China surged, averaging a half billion every day during the last year of the Trump administration,” said Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J.
Republicans countered that this policy change happened under the Obama administration, when Republicans were working with that administration to “unleash American energy” and export it around the world. Rep. Brett Guthrie, R-Ky., said that plan continued under President Trump, under which “record production” of energy took place.
However, Guthrie said this has changed under the Biden administration and during the last two years of the Democratic Congress, which have been pushing to reduce energy production even as they support record withdrawals from the SPR.
“The problem we’re facing today is because of President Biden and the Democrats’ in Congress war on American oil,” Guthrie said. “That’s the problem we’re here to address.”
SPR reserves have remained well above 600 million barrels since the turn of the century, but fell below that level in early 2022 as the Biden administration began selling off reserves. The reserve level fell below 400 million barrels late last year.