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Bush Appeals to Congress to Lift Ban on Offshore Oil Drilling

President Bush urged Congress on Wednesday not to leave Washington, D.C., for the August recess period until it passes legislation lifting the ban on oil drilling on the Outer Continental Shelf.

Appearing in the Rose Garden with his Cabinet behind him, Bush said that with gasoline hovering at $4 a gallon, Americans are facing a difficult period choosing between paying bills and affording to drive to work each day.

"The American people are rightly frustrated by the failure of Democrats in Congress to enact common sense solutions like the development of the oil resources on the Outer Continental Shelf," Bush said.

"All the Democratic leaders have to do is allow a vote. They should not leave Washington without doing so," he said.

Last week the president signed a new order lifting the executive ban on offshore drilling. In the same week, the House defeated a Democratic backed initiative to release 70 million barrels of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, which is the nation's oil stock in case of an emergency. Seventy million barrels would last about three days at existing consumption rates.

Bush said that it's illogical that Democrats want to drain the SPR but are unwilling to tap into massive reserves stored along the Outer Continental Shelf.

"America needs to take every reasonable and responsible step we can do and reduce pressure on gasoline and energy prices," he said, adding that his administration is working to up domestic oil production while also expanding the use of alternative fuels like nuclear and biodiesel and investigating in new technologies like advanced batteries, hydrogen fuel cells and cellulosic ethanol.

"The time for action is now. This is a difficult period for millions of American families. Every extra dollar they have to spend because of high gas prices is one less dollar they can use to put food on the table," Bush said.

As the president spoke, a coalition of bipartisan House members unveiled an energy bill that they say can pass Congress before it adjourns for the year.

Reps. Neil Abercrombie, D-Hawaii, and John Peterson, R-Pa., said the package would repeal the moratorium on drilling in some offshore areas, but prohibit leasing within 25 miles of the coastline and allow states to opt out of the 25 to 50 mile area offshore.

It would also enhance tax incentives for renewable energy and modify the refining capabilities of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve.

"We want people around the country to rise up and take a vote," Abercrombie said, appealing to voters to tell their lawmakers to pass legislation. "Put it on the floor for a two-thirds vote. If we don't take action (on energy), what right do we have to be here?"

Congressional members depart Washington for a nearly monthlong break in less than two weeks. The Legislature will likely not stay in session very long once it returns because lawmakers want to campaign in their home districts before the Nov. 4 election.

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi responded to Bush's remarks on energy Wednesday by releasing the following statement:

"The President knows, as his own Administration has stated, that the impact of any new drilling will be insignificant – promising savings of only pennies per gallon many years down the road. Americans know that thanks to the two oilmen in the White House, consumers are now paying $4 a gallon for gas. But what Americans should realize is that what the President is calling for is drilling as close as three miles off of America’s pristine beaches and in other protected areas.

Bush has "failed in his economic policy, and now he wants to say, ‘but for drilling in protected areas offshore, our economy would be thriving and the price of gas would be lower,’" Pelosi said.