WASHINGTON – President Bush says if Congress doesn't permit offshore drilling to increase U.S. oil supplies and possibly ease gasoline prices, lawmakers should not expect voters to support them in November.
In his Saturday radio address, Bush said experts claim the Outer Continental Shelf could eventually produce nearly 10 years' worth of U.S. oil production. Yet while record fuel prices have focused more attention on increasing domestic energy production, experts also note that lifting the congressional ban on offshore drilling wouldn't produce more oil for five to seven years.
Bush accused Democratic leaders in Congress of ignoring the public's demand for relief from high energy prices.
"This is their final chance to take action before the November elections," Bush said, noting that lawmakers soon will recess again to hit the campaign trail. "If members of Congress do not support the American people at the gas pump, then they should not expect the American people to support them at the ballot box."
Congress broke for its August recess without finding agreement on how big a role expanded domestic oil and gas production should have in a broader energy bill. Lawmakers return on Monday for a three-week session before leaving again to campaign for the November elections.
There are glimmers of movement on an energy bill, which has eluded Congress all year, mostly over Democratic reluctance to open up more offshore areas to oil drilling.
House Democrats will push for an energy plan that includes limited expansion of offshore drilling, requires power plants to use alternative fuels and demands oil companies pay additional royalties, a Democratic congressman said Saturday.
"We will consider responsibly opening portions of the Outer Continental Shelf for drilling while demanding that big oil companies use the leases they have already been issued or return them to the public," Rep. John Larson, D-Conn., said in the Democrats' weekly radio address.
A senior House Democratic aide, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the final energy package had not yet been assembled, said the offshore drilling proposal will be similar to a compromise that has been floated in the Senate.
The proposal would allow oil and gas drilling in federal waters off the Atlantic Coast from Virginia to Georgia and off Florida in the eastern Gulf of Mexico with a 50-mile protected buffer from shore according to the aide. States would be allowed to "opt in" to drilling in federal waters off their coasts if they choose to do so with a portion of the royalties going to the states.
In addition to more oil development, said Larson, "we need to address our future energy needs with a federal renewable electricity standard consisting of alternative forms of energy, including natural gas, solar power, wind, biomass and geothermal power and fuel cells.".
Some of those proposals, especially the oil industry taxes and a national renewable energy requirement for power companies, have been strongly opposed by Republicans.
In the Senate, a bipartisan group is putting together a compromise bill. Differences are more strident in the House, where Speaker Nancy Pelosi is introducing a bill in September that so far is not impressing Republicans.
Bush has called on Congress to expand access to oil shale, a domestic resource that he said could produce the equivalent of more than a century's worth of imports at current levels. And he wants Congress to extend renewable power tax credits to spur the development of alternative sources of energy like wind and solar.
"They should make these credits long term and expand them to cover all forms of low-emission power generation, including nuclear power," he said. "In the long run, increasing production of low-carbon electricity can help us reduce our addiction to oil by allowing us to power a new generation of plug-in hybrid and hydrogen-powered vehicles."
Republican John McCain supports offshore drilling, and Democrat Barack Obama would consider a limited increase in drilling.