Citing harsh economic impacts on the national economy from the post-hurricane run up of natural gas prices, the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) Thursday sounded the call for “a second national energy bill” from Congress that would open up parts of the outer continental shelf to drilling. NAM’s President John Engler, the former governor of Michigan, said the manufacturers support a bill from Rep. Richard Pombo (R-CA) to lift the drilling restrictions.

Manufacturers around the country have been “burning up the phone lines” to NAM’s national headquarters in Washington, DC, seeking help in mitigating against natural gas bills that have doubled in a year and are six times greater than they were six or seven years ago, Engler said during a conference call with a NAM board member Kellie Johnson, president of a Torrance, CA, small aerospace supplier, Ace Clearwater Enterprises. Johnson said her company’s monthly natural gas bill has jumped from $9,000 or $10,000/month last year to more than $14,000/month now.

Quoting former Tennessee governor and national Republican political figure, Lamar Alexander, Engler said “a national windmill policy won’t get it done.” He thinks the “national interest” now dictates that offshore drilling be resumed in places like the shelf off California and the eastern Gulf of Mexico off Florida. Engler said NAM wants the nation to tap what is estimated to be up to 635 Tcf of gas under the outer continental shelf, along with 102 billion barrels of oil.

Offering Johnson and her California small manufacturing firm as a poster child, NAM is weighing in heavily on the current energy price spikes because natural gas and electricity are critical to its member companies’ operations. Johnson said her firm has experienced a 25% increase in its annual gas bill, requiring the firm to “make changes in our operations. Even with conservation, we have seen our natural gas bills increase by more than $1,000-per-month.”

Today’s historic high gas prices are “moving throughout the economy” in impacting business, and ultimately consumer prices, Engler said.

The NAM board nationally has shown what Engler called “a lot of support for getting a second energy bill moving through the Congress.” They would like to have addressed some of the issues they think were bypassed by the new energy policy act passed last summer, such as returning to nuclear power plants and opening up the offshore drilling for oil and gas.

“These are issues, frankly, that have been part of the debate for a number of years,” Engler said.

In response to a question on the conference call, the NAM representatives drew short of saying major manufacturers are threatened by potential shortages of energy, or of having to shut down because of the high prices. “It is subtler than that,” Engler said, noting the high gas prices might result in operations being altered, or cutting back on manufacturing shifts, as opposed to all-out shutdowns.

“Part of our strategy at NAM is to support reopening the outer continental shelf, and there is a proposal for Congressman Pombo that we think would increase domestic energy supplies significantly and would have a positive impact on energy prices,” Engler said. “What he would do is put a drilling moratorium within 125 miles of all coasts, but at the same time allow the federal government to open up other areas like the eastern Gulf south of Alabama and Mississippi.”

Pombo’s proposal would try to get at the untapped supplies in federal waters at the same time it would “strengthen the states’ roles patrolling their own coast lines,” said Engler, who called it a “win-win” while admitting that it does cast aside activists who say no to any new offshore drilling on the shelf.

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