WASHINGTON – A House subcommittee on Wednesday rejected a Republican-led effort to open up more U.S. coastal waters to oil exploration.
Rep. John Peterson, R-Pa., spearheaded the effort. His proposal would open up U.S. waters between 50 and 200 miles off shore for drilling. The first 50 miles off shore would be left alone.
But the plan failed Wednesday on a 9-6, party-line vote in a House appropriations subcommittee, which was considering the proposal as part of an Interior Department spending package.
With record oil prices and gas prices projected to hover around the $4 mark for the rest of the summer, Republicans have ratcheted up their efforts to open up oil exploration along U.S. coastline. But the long-sought change has so far been unsuccessful.
Most offshore oil production and exploration has been banned since a federal law passed in 1981.
"We are kidding ourselves if we think we can drill our way out of these problems," House Appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey, D-Wis., said during the bill mark-up session.
For his part, Peterson said: "There is no valid reason for Congress to keep the country from energy resources it needs."
"I'm disappointed. I did not expect a partisan vote today. I felt we had a chance of winning this. A lot of Democrats have been talking favorably about my amendment. They know we have to do something. But today was an absolute show of Pelosi power, it was dealt from the top down," Peterson said later, speaking with FOX News, adding he was open to other energy solutions, including wind and solar power.
According to Peterson's office, the U.S. Minerals Management Service estimates that 86 billion barrels of oil and 420 trillion cubic feet of natural gas can be found along the U.S. outer continental shelf, the area affected by the ban.
Peterson is not alone in his desire to open up the shelf. An effort to unlock the resources has been underway in Congress in recent years, and several interest groups are backing the effort, too.
"Tapping America's huge reserve of deep ocean energy helps us fight terrorism and increases our domestic energy supply, which will help put downward pressure on gasoline prices," Greg Schnacke, President of Americans for American Energy, said in a news release, adding: "With Americans suffering at the gas pump and with higher energy bills, it's a no-brainer that the OCS should be developed."
But the proposal has faced staunch opposition from environmental groups from states where the shorelines are under consideration for drilling, like Florida.
Sierra Club lands program director Athan Manuel told a House committee Wednesday that drilling has been unsuccessful in driving costs down.
"The disappointing part about some of the energy policies being promoted (is) that it calls for more drilling when drilling really is the problem. And all we've got to show for pretty aggressive (domestic) drilling for the last 35 years is, again, $4 for a gallon of gas," Manuel said, adding "since the first Arab oil shock in the 1970s, the U.S. has produced almost 90 billion barrels of oil since then, so we've tried drilling our way out of the problem and it just hasn't worked."
Environment Florida spokeswoman Holly Binns told the Media General news group that offshore drilling has no immediate impact on prices.
"It would take anywhere from seven to 10 years to bring those resources to shore — to have any measurable impact on supply,” Binns said, advocating renewable energy sources.
Democrats held their own series of events on Capitol Hill Wednesday to focus attention on global warming and energy independence, but drilling is not on the agenda. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said Tuesday ongoing calls for more drilling "is the Johnny One-Note of the Republican Party."
Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., dismissed the need for oil explanation, speaking with FOX News Wednesday.
"There are 68 million acres right now that is available for exploration right now that the oil companies have — an area the size of Illinois and Georgia. We ought to be focusing on doing that," Blumenauer said, adding that a legal gap he referred to as the "Enron loophole" exempts energy trading from oversight of the U.S. Commodities Futures Trading Commission.
And not surprisingly, the issue has spilled into the ream of presidential politics as well.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., criticized Democrats, including fellow Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., over recent comments Obama made regarding gas prices.
The comments that McConnell referred to were given during an interview with CNBC. Discussing rising gasoline prices, Obama said: "I think that I would have preferred a gradual adjustment. The fact that this is such a shock to American pocketbooks is not a good thing.
Obama also said that "if we take some steps right now to help people make the adjustment, first of all by putting more money into their pockets, but also by encouraging the market to adapt to these new circumstances more quickly, particularly U.S. automakers, then I think ultimately, we can come out of this stronger and have a more efficient energy policy than we do right now.
McConnell, honing in on Obama's referral to "gradual" price increases, said Obama's remarks are evidence that Obama believes "rising gas prices aren't the problem. The problem, he suggested, is that they've gone up too fast. He said he would prefer a gradual adjustment."
He continued: "Whether it's shutting down domestic exploration in large areas both onshore and offshore, instituting a moratorium on oil shale development, increasing the gas tax, or refusing to pursue coal to liquids, Democrats long ago implemented a 'gradual adjustment' on gas prices that's reflected today in the $4.05 Americans are paying for a gallon of gas."