US House Adopts Plan to Ease Offshore Drilling Ban
The US House voted last night to approve a measure that would ease off a ban on offshore oil drilling and perhaps try to encourage a greater use of alternative fuels.
Democrats and Republicans don't see eye to eye over America's energy future, but under this new legislation oil companies would lose some tax benefits, they will be required to produce 15 percent of their electricity from renewable sources by 2020, and the ban that prevented them from producing fuel from Rocky Mountain shale will be lifted.
The legislation, which faces significant hurdles to becoming law before Congress breaks at the end of the month, would allow drilling as close as 50 miles from the coastline if adjacent states agree and 100 miles out no matter a state’s position. It would impose stricter oversight on the agency that handles oil leasing and royalty payments after recent disclosures of improper relationships between its employees and oil industry representatives.
“We are opening up to 400 million acres off the Atlantic and Pacific coasts to drilling and expanding the availability of oil by at least 2 billion barrels,” said Representative Nick J. Rahall II, the West Virginia Democrat who leads the Natural Resources Committee. “And we have done so in a balanced, reasonable and responsible manner.”
Republicans, who have made political gains by portraying Democrats as flatly opposed to new drilling, said the measure was a sham intended to provide Democrats cover from voters furious over gas prices. They faulted it for failing to add incentives for coal and nuclear power and for not limiting environmental suits against drilling proposals. They also criticized Democrats for not negotiating with Republicans in writing the bill.
“We are engaged in exactly what the American people are sick of, and that is political games here in Washington that are intended to be political games and have no outcome,” said Representative John A. Boehner of Ohio, the Republican leader.
A Republican effort to sidetrack the measure with a procedural tactic was rebuffed on a vote that generally adhered to party lines. That cleared the way for approval of the proposal, which drew strong support from Democrats including conservatives from states with strong oil and gas industries. On the final vote, 221 Democrats and 15 Republicans supported it; 176 Republicans and 13 Democrats were opposed.
“It represents a critical turning point,” said Representative Dan Boren, Democrat of Oklahoma, who praised the bill for provisions that would encourage greater use of natural gas. “Today is the day we begin to open our domestic opportunities.”
Democrats have supported a coastal drilling ban since 1982, so this could be seen as a real turn-around for them.
But Republicans called the entire exercise political, saying Democrats were willing to consider new offshore drilling only because they were certain the bill would not become law.
It is unlikely however, that the measure will pass with only two weeks left to go before Congress breaks until the November elections.