House OKs new off­shore drilling; Repub­li­cans call it a ‘hoax’

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY SEAN LENGELL

The Demo­crat-led House, fac­ing voter out­rage over high gas prices, on Sept. 16 ap­proved a bill al­low­ing some new off­shore oil drilling, though crit­ics say the plan would still leave most known un­der­wa­ter oil fields off-lim­its.

The bill, which would in­clude $18 bil­lion in tax in­cen­tives over 10 years for al­ter­na­tive en­ergy and en­ergy-ef­fi­ciency im­prove­ments, passed by a vote of 236-189. But the vote fell sig­nif­i­cantly short of the two-thirds ma­jor­ity needed to over­come a threat­ened White House veto. And it’s un­cer­tain whether and when the Se­nate will take up the bill.

Still, with the Novem­ber elec­tions loom­ing, Democrats are hop­ing to use the vote as proof they are se­ri­ous about in­creas­ing the na- tion’s do­mes­tic oil sup­ply.

“Noth­ing is more fun­da­men­tal to our econ­omy than en­ergy,” said House Ma­jor­ity Whip James E. Cly­burn, South Carolina Demo­crat. “This is the en­ergy pol­icy Amer­i­cans have been wait­ing for, for it lays out a smor­gas­bord of re­sources to ad­dress our fu­ture [en­ergy] chal­lenges.”

The pro­posal would ex­pand oil and nat­u­ral-gas drilling as close as 50 miles off­shore, if states agree. An ex­cep­tion would be Florida’s Gulf Coast, where cur­rent drilling bans would re­main in­tact.

The re­main­ing outer con­ti­nen­tal shelf from 100 miles out also would be open to oil and gas leas­ing without state ap­proval.

House Repub­li­cans said the bill is noth­ing more than a cha­rade be­cause it would keep off-lim­its nearly 90 per­cent of off­shore oil be­cause it lies within 50 miles of land.

The bill “won’t do a [. . . ] thing about Amer­i­can en­ergy,” said House Mi­nor­ity Leader John A. Boehner, Ohio Repub­li­can. “The bill that’s com­ing to the floor is noth­ing more than a hoax on the Amer­i­can peo­ple, and they will not buy it.”

Repub­li­cans added that the mea­sure, if it be­came law, would do lit­tle to pro­duce new do­mes­tic en­ergy sources and noth­ing to lower the price of gaso­line at the pump.

“But that doesn’t mat­ter be­cause no­body ex­pects this bill to be­come law,” said Mi­nor­ity Whip Roy Blunt, Mis­souri Repub­li­can, on the House floor. “Mem­bers of the House are of­fended — and we should be — by this process.”

Drilling cur­rently is al­lowed in fed­eral and state wa­ters off the coasts of Louisiana, Alabama, Mis­sis­sippi, Texas and Alaska, while some drilling also is al­lowed off the South­ern Cal­i­for­nia coast.

A small por­tion of the Gulf of Mex­ico about 125 miles from Florida has been ap­proved for oil ex­plo­ration, al­though no drilling there has been ap­proved.

Democrats said off­shore -drilling pro­vi­sions would open up 85 per­cent of the to­tal oil avail­able on the outer con­ti­nen­tal shelf for leas­ing, and would ex­pand oil avail­able by at least 2 bil­lion bar­rels.

They add it also would make enough nat­u­ral gas avail­able to heat 6 mil­lion homes for more than 42 years.

The mea­sure wouldn’t give states a share of the roy­al­ties for off­shore drilling, which Repub­li­cans ar­gue will leave states lit­tle in­cen­tive to agree to oil ex­plo­ration off their coasts.

Democrats, how­ever, say drilling would cre­ate jobs and strengthen lo­cal economies.

The bill also man­dates that util- ity com­pa­nies ob­tain 15 per­cent of their power from re­new­able sources by 2020.

On land, the bill would in­crease do­mes­tic oil pro­duc­tion in Alaska by man­dat­ing an­nual lease sales in the Na­tional Petroleum Re­serve in Alaska, which has an es­ti­mated 10 bil­lion bar­rels of oil. Drilling in the ad­ja­cent Arc­tic Na­tional Wildlife Refuge would re­main off-lim­its.

The pro­posal also would ex­tend tax cred­its for wind and so­lar in­dus­tries that are sched­uled to ex­pire this year.

To pay for the new tax in­cen­tives, the bill rolls back $18 mil­lion in tax breaks for the five largest oil com­pa­nies. It also re­quires en­ergy com­pa­nies to pay bil­lions of dol­lars in ad­di­tional roy­al­ties from oil drilling in the Gulf of Mex­ico in the late 1990s.

This ar­ti­cle is based in part on wire ser­vice re­ports.

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