Domestic drilling split along party lines
By Jim Brown
A veteran U.S. senator from Iowa laments that members of Congress beholden to the environmentalist lobby are still blocking domestic oil drilling opportunities as gas prices continue to skyrocket.
Last week in response to a question regarding soaring oil prices, President Bush called on American consumers to write their members of Congress and urge them to open up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) and the Outer Continental Shelf for oil drilling and to increase oil shale exploration.
Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) says there is not much division among the two parties on the need for more renewable energy sources and conservation -- but the Senate, he says, is deadlocked on oil drilling.
"I'd say 45 out of 49 [Republicans] want to drill almost every place where you can drill in the United States; and Democrats, except for one or two, are taking the view that we should not be drilling," says Grassley.
"That's the environmentalist point of view, and they respond to that environmentalist point of view to a great extent." [THIS SOUNDS EXACTLY LIKE WHAT THE EUROPEAN COMMISSION & EU PARLIAMENT DO - EMBRACE THE ENVIRONMENTALIST POSITION, NO MATTER THE COST TO CONSUMERS].
The Iowa Republican says he is constantly being asked why Congress will not approve oil drilling in the ANWR to combat record high fuel prices.
Two months ago, he says, constituents were not asking him that question. "Boy, I'm telling you, it's coming up at my town meetings in the last month. It's coming up in polls," he remarks. "And we're hoping that there's going to be a shift of opinion among Democrats to support more drilling.
But right now it's deadlocked with the end result that some people are willing to import more oil and send $140 [per barrel] overseas instead of keeping it in the United States."
Grassley says drilling in Alaska will yield 13 billion barrels of oil, but there is even more than that in the Gulf of Mexico Outer Continental Shelf.
Energy bill out of gas
By Jared Allen and Mike Soraghan
House Democrats are in a bind on the focal point of their energy plan.
Worried that a floor vote on any energy-related measure would trigger a Republican-forced vote on domestic drilling, the leadership has scrubbed the floor schedule of the energy legislation that it vowed to tackle after the Fourth of July recess.
Just before leaving for their districts, a number of House Democrats called a press conference to declare victory on a number of energy bills — including overwhelming passage of a bill to rein in excessive oil market speculation.
Democrats declared victory on a bill they failed to pass on the suspension calendar — their “use it or lose it bill” to force energy companies to either start drilling on their federally leased land or give it back — saying they had put 176 Republicans on record as siding with the oil companies over consumers.
And they vowed that the bill, the centerpiece of their energy message, would be back.
“We’ve taken some bold steps this week, and we’re going to build on that [after recess] with the bills we take up,” Democratic Caucus Vice Chairman John Larson (Conn.) said at the press conference.
But, as of Monday afternoon, neither “use it or lose it” nor any other energy measure had been scheduled for floor action this week.
Democrats said they were simply taking a different approach to passing their top energy-related priorities.
Nadeam Elshami, spokesman for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), said energy activity this week is taking place at the committee level, noting that there are four hearings planned on the issue of speculation in oil trading.
“Different members have different ideas,” Elshami said. “We’ll bring forward the best piece of legislation based on the recommendations and hearings we are having this week.”
Republicans pounced, saying Democrats were backtracking after realizing they would be unable to defeat a Republican vote on increased domestic oil drilling in new areas.
“It’s panic time for Democrats,” said a senior Republican aide. “They are on the wrong side of three-quarters of the American people who support increased production of American-made energy.”
While Democrats were in their districts advocating their plans to end gas price-gouging, rein in speculation, pass “use it or lose it” and even call for President Bush to release millions of barrels of crude oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR), Republicans were touting polls showing that a healthy majority of Americans now support increased domestic energy production.
That is proving to be a particular concern for Democrats in that any non-suspension-calendar energy vote would be subject to a Republican alternative, almost certainly calling for offshore and Arctic drilling, that would very likely pass.
“If we could send deepwater drilling over, it would pass the Senate,” said a Republican leadership aide, highlighting just how much an energy vote could backfire on Democrats.
A senior Democratic leadership aide acknowledged this week that there are plenty of members of the majority caucus “who want to drill and want to drill where Republicans want to drill.”
Even if Democratic leaders could beat back a GOP motion on drilling, the vote could be used as political ammunition against their vulnerable members this fall.
The Democratic setbacks come after they scored a political victory this spring when they overwhelmingly passed an SPR bill over initial White House objections. But Republicans now claim they have the upper hand, noting that Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) is citing drilling repeatedly on the campaign trail.
Further complicating matters for Democrats is the growing number of pro-drilling Democrats who are becoming increasingly worried that voters might throw them in with their anti-drilling leadership.
One pro-drilling Democrat predicted that the backlash against Congress for gas prices could rival the outrage voters felt about the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal.
Another, Rep. Charlie Melancon (D-La.), is frustrated at not being listened to.
“My concern with my leadership is that they’re not letting all the people in the room to present the facts,” said Melancon, a proponent of more offshore drilling. “Where are all the pro-oil legislators? I’m not in the room. I don’t know who is. My feeling is we are not being all-inclusive to pass legislation that can get through the Senate and avoid a veto.”
For now, though, there will be no legislation to pass, as the only energy-related action this week will occur at the committee level.
Republicans may try to continue a strategy they demonstrated before recess by forcing drilling votes as energy amendments to bills being considered at the committee level, including appropriations bills.
And Republicans may go one step further by trying to get amendments added to the energy and water appropriations bill, a likely contender to see the floor this week.
“We’re going to demand a pro-production energy vote before Congress goes home for the month of August,” said House Republican Conference Chairman Adam Putnam (Fla.). “We’ve tried to highlight efforts to solve America’s energy problem a thousand ways to Sunday, and [Democrats] keep pulling them from committee, pulling them from the floor and kicking the can down the road.”
Exactly when Democrats will change their present course and bring an energy bill to the floor remains uncertain.
“Right now, our strategy on gas prices is ‘Drive small cars and wait for the wind,’ ” said a Democratic aide.