A bill to repeal the U.S. ban on oil exports gained momentum on Thursday, when it passed a House of Representatives subcommittee, an intial step to overturn the 40-year-old trade restriction in the full chamber.
The House Energy and Power subcommittee passed the bill by a voice vote. The legislation, sponsored by Republican Representative Joe Barton of Texas, is expected to go to a vote by the full Energy and Commerce committee next week.
Passage by the full panel would set it up for a wider vote by the Republican-led House, where it is expected to pass. The measure, however, still faces an uphill battle in the U.S. Senate.
Barton said the energy landscape has changed since 1975 when the ban was imposed and a repeal would provide jobs and help allies diversify their oil supplies.
The bill is supported by oil producers who say they need access to global markets to keep the domestic drilling boom alive.
But several Democrats on the panel expressed reservations about the measure.
Representative Frank Pallone, a New Jersey Democrat, said repealing the ban would lead to a “significant pay day for oil producers,” but it was less certain that it would benefit U.S. consumers and that a repeal would put oil refinery jobs in jeopardy.
Democratic Representative Mike Doyle of Pennsylvania said repealing the ban would shift U.S. refinery jobs overseas.
Barton’s bill has 123 co-sponsors in the 435-member House, with only 14 Democrats signing on.
Backers of a similar bill in the Senate, including Senators Lisa Murkowski, a Republican from Alaska, and Heidi Heitkamp, a Democrat from North Dakota, need to garner more support for the legislation to pass.
A bill sponsored by Murkowski, the chair of the Senate Energy Committee, passed in her panel in July, but no Democrats voted for it. Although Republicans also lead the Senate, the measure would need support from at least six Democrats to reach the 60 needed to pass that chamber.
(Reporting by Timothy Gardner; editing by Susan Heavey and G Crosse)