Bush to lift executive ban on offshore drilling
By BEN FELLER
Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON (AP) — In another push to deal with soaring gas prices, President Bush on Monday will lift an executive ban on offshore drilling that his stood since his father was president. But the move, by itself, will do nothing unless Congress acts as well.
The president plans to officially lift the ban and then explain his actions in a Rose Garden statement, White House press secretary Dana Perino said.
There are two prohibitions on offshore drilling, one imposed by Congress and another by executive order signed by former President Bush in 1990. The current president, trying to ease market tensions and boost supply, called last month for Congress to lift its prohibition before he did so himself.
But Perino said Bush no longer wants to wait. She pinned blame on the leaders of the Democratic Congress, noting that no action has been taken on this issue.
“They haven’t even held a single hearing,” Perino said. “So we are going to move forward, and hopefully that will spur action by the Congress.”
Asked if Bush’s action alone will lead to more oil drilling, Perino said, “In terms of allowing more exploration to go forward? No, it does not.”
The president, in his final months of office, has responded to record gas-prices with a series of proposals, including more oil exploration. None would have immediate impact on prices at the pump, according to White House officials, who say there is no quick fix. But starting action now would help, they say.
Bush’s proposal echoes a call by Republican presidential candidate, Sen. John McCain, to open the Continental Shelf for exploration. Democrat Barack Obama has opposed the idea and instead argued for helping consumers with a second economic stimulus package including energy rebates, as well as stepped up efforts to develop alternative fuels and more fuel-efficient automobiles.
“If offshore drilling would provide short-term relief at the pump or a long-term strategy for energy independence, it would be worthy of our consideration, regardless of the risks,” spokesman Bill Burton said in a statement. “But most experts, even within the Bush administration, concede it would do neither. It would merely prolong the failed energy policies we have seen from Washington for thirty years.”
Congressional Democrats have rejected the push to lift the drilling moratorium, accusing the president of hoping the U.S. can drill its way out a problem.
Bush says offshore drilling could yield up to 18 billion barrels of oil over time, although it would take years for production to start. Bush also says offshore drilling would take pressure off prices over time. In addition, the president has proposed opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for drilling, lifting restrictions on oil shale leasing in the Green River Basin of Colorado, Utah and Wyoming and easing the regulatory process to expand oil refining capacity.
Congressional Democrats, joined by some GOP lawmakers from coastal states, have opposed lifting the prohibition that has barred energy companies from waters along both the East and West coasts and in the eastern Gulf of Mexico. A succession of presidents, from Bush’s father ó George H.W. Bush ó to Bill Clinton, have sided against drilling in these waters, as has Congress each year for 27 years. Their goal has to been to protect beaches and coastal states’ tourism economies.