Congress Warms to New Oil Drilling

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Now that it has become a presidential campaign issue, drilling for more off-shore oil is scheduled to be debated next week on Capitol Hill.

Senate Democrats are promising a series of votes on the issue. The move comes after polls have shown growing public support for offshore drilling.

Two new proposals would permit some limited oil and gas drilling off Florida's gulf coast and along four southeastern states in the Atlantic. Republicans say those waters are needed for further energy development as soon as possible.

Drill, Baby, Drill

GOP presidential nominee Sen. John McCain has called for opening waters now off limits to energy development as soon as possible.

His opponent, Democratic Sen. Barack Obama, also has signaled support for some additional expansion of offshore drilling.

A bipartisan group of 22 senators has crafted what may be a drilling compromise. The group has proposed allowing drilling 50 miles off the coasts of Virginia, South Carolina, North Carolina and Georgia and off the Gulf coast of Florida.

Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., also has an energy proposal that would include drilling in the currently off-limits eastern Gulf of Mexico and possibly elsewhere.

Both proposals as they now stand would stop oil industry tax breaks. These funds would then be shifted to promote energy efficiency and renewable energy programs like wind and solar power.

Congressional insiders believe Republican leaders will push for broader offshore drilling. The lawmakers are also likely to call for lifting drilling bans along both the Pacific and Atlantic coasts as well as the eastern Gulf of Mexico. The GOP has also opposed placing any additional taxes on oil companies.

Will Any Legislation Pass?

However, the prospects for any drilling legislation being passed during this session is still uncertain.

Speaking on the Senate floor Monday, Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., ridiculed "the misguided rhetoric and hollow chants" of the proponents of offshore drilling. "This senator is not going to allow Florida to be a sacrificial lamb" to an energy compromise," he said.

Meanwhile, House Republican leaders on Monday declared they wanted lawmakers to lift all of the drilling bans on the Outer Continental Shelf's federal waters as well as in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge or ANNWR.

Forty Republicans met on the Capitol steps Monday, demanding that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., allow the Republican energy package consideration on the House floor.

"We want a vote," said House GOP leader John Boehner, R-Ohio.

Pelosi was planning to announce the House Democrats' energy proposals on Tuesday. They include a proposal for limited offshore drilling, but it is nowhere near what the Republicans want.

Source: The Associated Press

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