Democrats delay US offshore vote, slam Bush plan

18 June 2008 20:44  [Source: ICIS news]

WASHINGTON (ICIS news)--Democrat leaders abruptly postponed a House committee vote on Wednesday on offshore drilling authority amid mounting political and popular calls for an end to the 27-year-old congressional ban on ocean floor energy development.


A long-scheduled meeting of the House Appropriations Committee that was to begin at 10:00 Eastern Time on Wednesday was postponed indefinitely just two hours before the start time.


The committee spokesperson was not available for an explanation.


Hill sources said the meeting was scuttled at the last minute because Democrat leaders did not want the vote on offshore drilling to be taken, either because they feared the authorization for offshore drilling would pass or because the Democrats did not want to be seen voting against a measure that would increase domestic US energy supplies.


The committee was to vote on the fiscal year appropriations bill for the US Interior Department, which has authority over US outer continental shelf (OCS) energy resources.  Since 1982, the department’s appropriations bill has included a line barring any spending by the department on leasing of exploration tracts in OCS regions off the US East and West Coasts and along Alaska’s lengthy shoreline.


The amendment to that bill that was to be voted on in today’s committee meeting would have allowed oil and gas leasing by the department in all OCS areas 50-200 miles from shore.  It also would provide a share of federal leasing royalties to coastal states that allowed energy development off their shores.


The postponement came just hours before President George Bush issued a call for Congress to lift the nearly three-decades-old drilling ban on grounds that the US economy and consumers need access to the oil and gas resources that lie offshore.  The committee delay also followed an announcement on Tuesday by Republican presidential candidate and Senator John McCain that he will press for an end to the offshore ban.


Democrat leaders dismissed Bush’s call on Wednesday, with Senator Chris Dodd of Connecticut charging that the president is seeking to “pad the coffers of oil executives while American families struggle with ever-rising gas prices”.


Senator Robert Menendez (Democrat-New Jersey) said that “the president is an oil man who has been wrong on just about every issue over eight years”.


“Giving another handout to oil companies is absurd,” Menendez said, charging that US energy companies have failed to produce oil and gas on some 68m acres of federal lands already leased to them.


“It’s time that this government stopped bending over backward for oil companies and instead prodded them to get to work on the huge tracts of unused land already at their disposal,” Menendez said.


However, Democrat Senator Mary Landrieu of Louisiana had praise for Bush’s call for an end to the offshore development ban.


“President Bush’s attempt today to expand energy production off our coasts is very welcome and is a wise position he should have taken earlier,” Landrieu said.


“I am encouraged by the president’s new stance, however, and I stand ready to work to champion the cause in the Senate,” she added.


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By: Joe Kamalick
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