Pelosi: Lifting Drilling Ban a ‘Hoax’

Posted July 14, 2008 at 2:51pm

House Democratic leaders appear unfazed by President Bush lifting the executive ban on offshore drilling Monday, a move that would have little short-term effect on gas prices but that increases the pressure on Democrats to support more drilling.

The move has no effect unless lawmakers roll back the Congressional ban, at which point energy companies could start drilling for oil and gas in the Outer Continental Shelf. That is unlikely to happen.

Lifting the ban is a “hoax,” said Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), adding that Bush is operating as “the oilman in the White House … echoing the demands of Big Oil.”

Such a move “will neither reduce gas prices nor increase energy independence. It just gives millions more acres to the same companies that are sitting on nearly 68 million acres of public lands and coastal areas,” Pelosi said.

Instead, the president should release some of the 700 million barrels of oil in the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, she said. Such a move would “bring down prices in the next two weeks, not the next two decades.”

Other top Democrats were on message with Pelosi.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said Bush’s announcement “isn’t about legitimate drilling access; it is political messaging excess.”

House Democratic Caucus Chairman Rahm Emanuel (Ill.) called the move “a political stunt” and urged the president to draw down oil from the SPR instead of spending time “hosting press conferences.”

In addition to fending off growing GOP calls for new drilling, Democratic leaders also have to contend with pro-drilling Members in their own party.

Rep. Neil Abercrombie (D-Hawaii) on Tuesday is set to announce a bipartisan working group of 20 lawmakers — 10 Democrats, 10 Republicans — who are united on the issue of new drilling in response to skyrocketing gas costs.

But a senior Democratic aide brushed off the suggestion that there is growing support for drilling among Democrats.

The aide predicted that those Democrats in the working group, each of whom will be named Tuesday, are Members who “have been oil patch people all along.”

“When we had previous battles on this issue, these people would vote with Republicans,” the aide said. “They vote with the interest of their district.” For example, Abercrombie and Rep. Gene Green (D-Texas) are typical pro-drilling voices on this front, the aide said.

“There’s nothing new in this equation,” the aide said. “There’s no new dimension to this debate at all.”

For their part, Democratic leaders on Thursday are expected to bring up their energy package on the suspension calendar. Among its provisions, the bill would speed up drilling in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska and build more oil and gas pipelines from Alaska to the contiguous United States.