Will Congress end its ban on OCS drilling before George W. Bush leaves office?


September 9, 2008

Pelosi says Democratic energy bill will include offshore drilling

Congress is back in session this week. It has a full slate of legislation to get through before adjourning on September 26th before the election. And it now looks likely that at least a partial end to the moratorium on offshore drilling will be on the agenda.

House Democratic leaders held a news conference today to discuss a comprehensive energy bill to be introduced this week.

"This week, the House will vote on comprehensive energy legislation that is a result of a reasonable compromise," said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

"This comprehensive energy legislation is the result of serious compromising among Democrats to bring down gas prices now and invest in a renewable future," she said. "Republicans must set aside their 'drill only' policy; even their own supporters have said we cannot drill ourselves out of this emergency situation."

"It will come down to this when it comes to energy. Whose side are you on? The side of the American consumer and the taxpayer, or Big Oil?

["If they want to drill offshore we say, 'Okay, if you want to drill on the outer continental shelf, let's have a discussion and a change of the relationship between our oil, which is owned by the American people, the desire of Big Oil for us to subsidize their drilling, and us not to, the American people not getting the benefit of the profits.' So more drilling, no subsidies, and we want our royalties, in order to pay for investments in renewable energy resources, make a strong commitment to LIHEAP (Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program and the land and conservation fund, something like that.

"We want the American people to see the distinction between the Democrats and the Republicans on this." she said. "Do you want to drill now on the continental shelf? We want our royalties. No more subsidies for you. We want those subsidies and those royalties for LIHEAP, for renewable energy resources, for a better energy future for our country."

Debate on the energy plan is likely to get nasty. Having failed to earn support for their previous four energy bills this year, many of us had hoped that Democrats would return from their five-week-long recess ready to work on meaningful energy legislation, and willing to consider an 'all of the above' approach to lowering prices at the pump.

"Unfortunately, what we know of the plan right now suggests it's just more of the same from this Democratic majority," said House Republican Whip Roy Blunt, -- written for the specific purpose of allowing those who oppose responsible energy development a chance to say that they support it, confident that no such development will ever take place. In fact, this package would permanently put 80 percent of our offshore resources under lock and key. That's hardly the kind of comprehensive approach to crafting real energy solutions that the American people are demanding.

According to Thee Houston Chronicle, the Democratic plan would open areas that have been off-limits to drilling for more than a quarter century.

It would give producers access to the eastern Gulf of Mexico west of Florida--an area oil and gas companies have long eyed because of its proximity to existing oil and gas pipelines and other energy infrastructure -- as well as federal waters off the coasts of Virginia, the Carolinas and Georgia.

By choosing those areas, the Democratic House plan would mimic a proposal backed by a bipartisan group in the Senate. The Senate is expected to take up its own energy proposal next week.

House Democrats were still debating how much of a buffer zone they might propose to ensure that any oil spill doesn't reach participating states' beaches.

But a consensus was forming around a compromise that would bar any drilling within 50 miles of the coastlines of those five states. The states would have the right to decide whether drilling would be permitted between 50 and 100 miles. Beyond 100 miles, oil and gas producers would have access to federal waters, whether or not the state governments approved, says the Chronicle report.

The Senate proposal, the "Gang of 10" energy plan, as introduced by Senators Kent Conrad (D-ND) and Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) would tie new offshore drilling to a rollback of tax breaks and royalty-free leases for oil companies, as well as a requirement to drill on existing leases. Incentives for development of alternative energy sources, new technologies, and mass transit would also be part of the package.

As much as anything else, what's gotten the Democratic leadership to include drilling in the crowded legislative time table is that the Department of Interior appropriations bill has, for the past several decades, been the vehicle for extending the offshore drilling ban. That bill is likely to be wrapped into a huge continuing resolution that gives the government money to keep going until the next Congress and a new Administration is in place. Several legislators have said they will try to block the continuing resolution if it includes another extension of the drilling moratorium.

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