Offshore drilling opponent Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) Thursday vowed to take steps to stop the Bush administration’s plans for a new wave of oil and natural gas drilling off the coast of Florida and other areas that currently are off-limits.

In a letter to Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne, Nelson said he would “take whatever action is necessary to prevent you from taking this questionable step.” Kempthorne Wednesday announced that Interior’s Minerals Management Service was beginning preparations for a new five-year offshore oil and gas leasing program that would include energy development throughout the federal Outer Continental Shelf (OCS). The department’s action was in response to the run-up in gasoline prices and President Bush’s withdrawal of the executive ban on oil and gas leasing operations in the OCS (see Daily GPI, July 31).

“It is becoming increasingly clear that President Bush is set on putting oil rigs off the state of Florida before he leaves office in January, regardless of the fact it will have no effect on energy prices,” Nelson wrote.

Instead of looking to the OCS, “the answer lies in the rapid development of alternative fuels and vehicles, like cars that run on hydrogen, not petroleum. And the oil companies need to drill in the 68 million acres already under lease where there still is no drilling.”

Bush called for Congress to act on OCS drilling before leaving for its August recess this week. “Before you go home for an extended period of time, you ought to bring these bills to the floor. The leaders ought to be giving these members a vote — a chance to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ as to whether or not we ought to be finding more domestic oil to take the pressure off gasoline prices,” the president said.

“I’ve done my part” by removing the executive restrictions on offshore drilling, he said. “Now the Congress needs to do its part.” Democrats and Republicans in both chambers are at loggerheads over the drilling issue. If it’s brought up at all on Capitol Hill, it won’t be until lawmakers return in September. Lawmakers then will have only a three-week window to act before leaving for the campaign trail in late September.

©Copyright 2008Intelligence Press Inc. All rights reserved. The preceding news reportmay not be republished or redistributed, in whole or in part, in anyform, without prior written consent of Intelligence Press, Inc.