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Pelosi: Offshore Drilling Has to Be Part of Broad Package

Broad energy legislation, which could very well include limited expansion of offshore drilling, is likely to be brought up in both the Senate and the House when lawmakers return from recess in September, a Democratic aide said.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) conceded as much last week. "We can do that. We can have have a vote on that [offshore drilling]. But it has to be part of something [a broader package] that says we want to bring immediate relief to the public and not just a hoax on them," Pelosi said during an interview with Larry King on CNN last Monday.

Apparently bending to pressure from House Republicans and the public, this was the first time that Pelosi indicated she may allow a vote on offshore drilling. A small band of Republicans has remained in session during the recess to protest the Democratic leadership's repeated refusal to schedule a vote on increasing producer access to offshore reserves.

"It depends on how that [offshore drilling] is proposed, if the safeguards are there," and "if we can get some great things, in terms of renewable energy resources, a renewable electricity standard, wind, solar, biofuels and the rest in that context," Pelosi said. A Democratic energy bill also would likely include provisions to curb "excessive" energy speculation, and to require the sale of 70 million barrels of light, sweet crude oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve.

Senate staffers currently are working on putting together energy legislation that would allow limited offshore drilling, said Bill Wicker, spokesman for Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. The measure is expected to reflect some of the principles in a bipartisan energy bill that was unveiled earlier this month by five Senate Republicans and five Democrats -- known as the "Gang of 10."

The Gang of 10's Energy Reform Act of 2008 (ERA) appears to be the first real compromise on offshore drilling. It proposes to open additional Gulf of Mexico areas and allow the states of Virginia, North and South Carolina and Georgia to opt into leasing off their shores. The measure would not open coastal areas off states such as New Jersey and California, which have bitterly opposed offshore drilling (see NGI, Aug. 4).

In addition to increasing offshore access, the ERA measure lays the groundwork to transition the nation's motor vehicle fleets to fuels other than gasoline and diesel and includes an extension of renewable, energy conservation and energy efficiency tax incentives, as well as offers consumers tax credits.

Democratic presidential contender Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois earlier this month signaled a shift in his position on offshore drilling, saying he would be open to allowing exploration and production off certain coastal states as part of a larger compromise on energy policy (see NGI, Aug. 11). The softening of Obama's position came nearly two months after Republican presidential contender Sen. John McCain of Arizona announced his support for repealing the congressional moratorium on offshore drilling, so that coastal states can choose the option to allow drilling (see NGI, June 23).

Speaking to the Coalition for Affordable American Energy last Tuesday, President Bush called for Congress to act on expanding drilling in the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) in September. "When Congress returns, they should immediately bring this bill to the House floor and schedule an up or down vote on whether to lift the moratorium on offshore drilling," he said following an informal meeting with group members.

"Democratic leadership should bring up a clean bill, give the members a chance to vote...on whether or not we should proceed with offshore drilling, and not insert any legislative poison pills. Those would be provisions that they know will never be enacted and are added only for the purpose of killing the effort to open up the Outer Continental Shelf to drilling."

And "Congress can do some more. Once they solve this problem, they can allow us to drill in northern Alaska, which we can do in environmentally friendly ways. They should allow us to tap into the extraordinary potential of oil shale. And we need to expand our refining capacity here in America," Bush said.

"This is part of a comprehensive strategy. Everybody in this room understands that expanding oil and gas production is part of a comprehensive strategy. Obviously we need to expand conservation measures. We need to develop alternative energy technologies, such as advanced batteries, plug-in hybrids [and] hydrogen fuel cells. We need to expand clean, safe nuclear power, clean coal technology, solar and wind power. There's not a single answer to our energy problems."

In a related development a broad spectrum of Americans -- confronted with high gasoline prices -- are expressing support for oil and natural gas drilling in protected coastal and wilderness areas, according to a recent poll conducted by ABC News, Planet Green and Stanford University.

The poll revealed that 63% of those surveyed supported expanding oil and gas exploration and production in the federal OCS, while 55% favored drilling in wilderness areas in the United States.

An estimated 64% now rate "finding new energy sources" as more important than improving conservation -- up nine points since 2001, the poll said. It noted that previous polls had shown the broadest support for alternative energy, such as wind, solar and hydro power. The new level of support for oil drilling and reduced objection to nuclear power reflects the public's concern with the current energy situation.

The poll results mirror the position of Senate and House Republicans, who prior to their August break called on Democrats to schedule a vote to lift the 27-year-old congressional moratorium on drilling in much of the OCS, including the East and West coasts and parts of the eastern Gulf of Mexico. Republicans and Democrats have been at a standoff on the issue. Republicans have blocked several of the Democrats' energy measures, such as a restraint on energy speculation and tax extensions for renewable energy, because of the Democrats refusal to address offshore drilling (see NGI, Aug. 4).

The poll also signals broad support (55%) for imposing windfall profits tax on oil and gas companies, and backs measures aimed at restricting speculation by energy traders.

On the issue of pollution, there was wide support for a cap-and-trade system to limit greenhouse gas emissions. Two-thirds of those surveyed said the federal government should act to reduce global warming even if other counties refuse to do the same.

The public was evenly divided (43%-45%) over who would do a better job of cutting greenhouse gas emissions -- the government, through laws intended to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, or businesses, through market competition. Nonetheless, 61% said the federal government should do more than it's doing now to try to reduce global warming.

Environmentalism remains a political plus, the poll noted. Surveyed individuals by 42% to 6% said they would be more likely to support a presidential candidate who is a strong environmentalist. And 72% said they are trying to reduce energy consumption, including using less gasoline.

The poll surveyed 1,000 adults via telephone between July 23 and July 28. The results have a sampling error of plus or minus 3%.

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