Gulf region lawmakers are demanding an end to the moratorium on offshore oil drilling imposed by the Obama administration, saying the cost to workers' livelihoods exceeds the risk of another spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
Louisiana Rep. Charlie Melancon joined several of the region's other congressional members on Tuesday to argue that a six-month moratorium would result in 20,000 lost jobs and the collapse of offshore drilling companies and suppliers, who contribute $6 billion a year to federal coffers.
Melancon, a Democrat, along with 19 other Gulf lawmakers, held a press conference Tuesday to demand an end to the moratorium and to advocate for "responsible offshore drilling and continued development of our natural resources." Other representatives present, included Ted Poe, R-Texas; Charles Boustany, R-La.; Robert Aderholt, R-Ala.; Joe Barton, R-Texas and Gregg Harper, R-Miss.
The news conference came as members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee convened on Capitol Hill to grill BP and the nation's top oil executives on offshore drilling practices and preparedness in averting an environmental disaster.
The hearing also served as a battle ground over the administration's moratorium on deep-water drilling, as three of the five oil executives present said they favored an end to the ban. Two executives, Shell Oil Company President Marvin Odum and BP America Inc. President and Chairman Lamar McKay, were not given an opportunity to answer yes or no.
The U.S. government extended a moratorium on deep-water drilling in May by six months following the April 20 explosion at the Deepwater Horizon rig that killed 11 workers and unleashed millions of gallons of crude oil into the Gulf. BP currently has four other offshore oil drilling permits that were put on hold by Obama.
But the ban, while supported by the White House and other Democrats, has angered Gulf lawmakers who say it's crippling an already weakened economy in the region.
"Thousands of Louisianans are already out of work because of the devastating oil spill, but President Obama says he has a plan for all this job loss -- join the unemployment rolls, and collect a government check," Sen. David Vitter, R-La., wrote in an e-mail to his supporters on Tuesday.
"This is totally unacceptable. I will fight to keep every single Louisiana job Obama is putting in jeopardy as a result of this moratorium," Vitter said.
And in a letter to the Small Business Administration Tuesday, Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., cited the six-month moratorium as a factor in the Gulf region's economic struggle.
White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, meanwhile, backed away from suggestions that the moratorium be lifted, telling Fox News Tuesday that Obama no longer trusts the word of BP in determining whether its deep-water oil drilling is safe in other parts of the Gulf of Mexico.
"I don't think the people of the Gulf, even those dependent upon those jobs, or the people of this country, believe that we ought to be letting BP go forward with the drilling process when we're still cleaning up the mess of the last time they tried to drill at a deep-water depth in the Gulf," Gibbs said.
Public Polling Policy, a liberal-leaning polling agency, released a poll Tuesday that surveyed how unhappy Louisiana voters are with Obama's handling of the Gulf crisis.
Fifty percent of voters in the state -- including 31 percent of Democrats -- said former President George W. Bush handled Hurricane Katrina better than Obama's response to the oil spill crisis.
The poll found that 32 percent of Louisiana voters approve of how Obama has addressed the spill, while 62 percent disapprove.
The poll, which surveyed 492 Louisiana voters from June 12 to 13, had a sampling error of plus or minus 4.4 percentage points.