WASHINGTON – President Bush chastised Democrats on Saturday for refusing to allow a vote on whether to lift the federal ban on offshore oil drilling before lawmakers departed for their summer recess.
"To reduce pressure on prices, we need to increase the supply of oil, especially oil produced here at home," Bush said in his weekly radio address. It was the fourth time this week that he has called for Congress to end the drilling restrictions off the Atlantic and Pacific coasts and in the eastern Gulf of Mexico.
Some of the drilling moratoriums have been in place since 1981 for environmental reasons and concerns that energy development might harm coastal tourist industries.
Bush acknowledged it would be years before any of the oil beneath the offshore waters could be pumped, but he said "lifting the ban would create new opportunities for American workers and businessmen."
"But the leaders of the Democratic Congress have refused to allow a vote" on whether the drilling moratoriums should be lifted, Bush complained.
Most energy experts and the government's own research agency at the Energy Department have said drilling in the Outer Continental Shelf, which is now off-limits, would have no impact on current gasoline prices and probably would have none for years.
Congressional Democrats have argued that oil companies already have large areas of federal land and waters where they can drill for oil, especially in Alaska and off its coast.
"The president knows ... that the impact of any new drilling will be insignificant, promising savings of only pennies per gallon many years down the road," says House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who has called the demand to lift the drilling bans a hoax.
Pelosi, D-Calif., has refused to bring up for House consideration various Republican proposals to lift the offshore drilling moratoriums that Congress has renewed annually for years.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada offered to consider a GOP offshore drilling proposals, but when Republicans demanded votes on a number of other energy proposals, he withdrew his offer.
Congress began its annual August recess on Friday without having enacted any substantive responses to public outcries over high gasoline and other energy costs. Reid blamed Republicans, who have filibustered a number of energy measures, for the congressional gridlock.
A proposal presented Friday by a bipartisan group of 10 senators — five from each party — would allow oil and gas drilling beyond 50 miles of the coast in the South Atlantic and eastern Gulf of Mexico, but leave the ban in place elsewhere.
Bush in his radio remarks also urged Congress to end restrictions on developing shale oil on federal lands in the West and to allow drilling in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
Bush called these actions "vital steps to help reduce pressure on gas prices," although none of the actions would produce any new oil for years.