Getting to 'yes' on more offshore drilling? Not yet.
Congress is set to consider several energy bills this week, but hopes dim for passage of any of them.
To get to "yes" on sweeping new energy legislation, US lawmakers this week will first have to neutralize "poison pills" that both sides acknowledge could yet scuttle passage of any bill. Foremost among these are big caveats top Democrats want in return for relaxing a decades-old moratorium on offshore oil and gas drilling in most US waters, including rolling back $17 billion in tax breaks for Big Oil and cutting states out of any royalties from new lease sales off their coasts.Skip to next paragraph
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Democrats see their proposal as a compromise, a way to expand offshore production in an environmentally responsible way. Last week, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate majority leader Harry Reid both said they would allow votes on proposals to expand oil and gas drilling off the coasts of Virginia, the Carolinas, and Georgia. That represents a shift for Speaker Pelosi, who in the summer vowed to block a vote on lifting the offshore-drilling ban.
Republicans, though, see the proposed caveats as undermining their aim to drill as much oil as fast as possible. "Drill, baby, drill" emerged as a GOP rallying cry at their party's national convention earlier this month.
House Democrats are expected to release details of their comprehensive energy proposal this week. The bill is expected to give states the option of permitting drilling at least 50 miles off their shores. Even when states refuse consent, Washington could authorize drilling at least 100 miles offshore.
Commenting on an outline of the plan, House Republicans say it's a nonstarter: It permanently locks up 88 percent of potential national resources offshore, and it doesn't give coastal states any financial incentive to back expanded drilling, they say.
"This may turn out to be just words," Rep. Thelma Drake (R) of Virginia said in the House Republican Conference radio address this weekend. "The speaker's proposal would create an economic double standard, giving states like Virginia, who would like to produce offshore, zero incentive to do so."
Moreover, the probable 100-mile limit would put most of the Pacific coastline off limits to drilling – another sticking point, Republicans say.
"Another sign that this is not a serious attempt to get a bill signed into law is that there has been no bipartisanship, no effort to get Republican input whatsoever," says Michael Steel, a spokesman for House Republican leader John Boehner.
Those who prefer the Democratic approach see it differently.