Feb. 9, 2016 SIGN IN | REGISTER

Democrats Playing Defense on Energy

Saul Loeb/AFP/Pool

The aide also said increased oil production is due to increased oil exploration occurring on private land and that while the White House has given out more leases, the pace of granting permits necessary to begin the work on federal land continues to be slow.

Asked about Republican characterization of the report, Salazar dismissed it.

"I would say that those attacks are simply wrong," Salazar said. "The fact of the matter is that we are producing more from public lands both oil and gas, both onshore as well as offshore than at any time in recent memory.

"And the fact of the matter is: Just in the last 12 months, we've issued over 61 permits just to drill in the deep water, about 100 to drill in the shallow water," Salazar continued.

The energy debate will continue Tuesday when the Senate will vote on a Republican amendment to a transportation bill, expected to pass this week, which includes a provision to approve the 1,700-mile Keystone XL pipeline. The proposal is being offered by Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) and includes other provisions, such as an extension of certain energy-related tax breaks that expire at the end of the year.

Republicans see the approval of Keystone as imperative to creating jobs, increasing energy production and helping reduce gas prices. They argue that Democrats should get behind the proposal's approval instead of looking to raise taxes on energy companies.

"Instead of returning again and again to tax hikes that increase consumers' costs, the administration and its Democrat allies in Congress should open their eyes to the opportunity presented by the Keystone XL pipeline," McConnell said in the statement.

The Senate last week rejected, 56-42, an amendment to approve the Keystone project, with 11 Democrats voting with Republicans in favor of approving the project. The proposal needed 60 votes to pass.

A Senate Democratic aide said party members who voted against the amendment do not necessarily oppose the project; rather, it was the timeline they opposed, which would not allow for a proper review of the project.

But a growing number of Democrats on the Hill have publicly and privately questioned the wisdom of opposing Keystone XL given that it seems destined to be built eventually and that blocking it has little upside, especially against the backdrop of rising gas prices.

The White House on Monday also said it is not holding up the project, saying it is waiting for TransCanada to resubmit an application for the northern portion, due to concerns from Nebraska officials over the initial path.

Heather Zichal, deputy assistant to the president for energy and climate change, said at the press conference that the southern portion of the pipeline, between Cushing, Okla., and Port Arthur, Texas, "will be going forward."

"From our perspective, that's certainly an opportunity to create jobs," Zichal said, "but also to address an energy challenge."

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