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Pelosi Backs Some Drilling, But Details Sketchy

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) indicated Tuesday that she is willing to give in at least partly to Republican demands for additional offshore oil drilling but exactly how much, where and at what price remains under discussion.

Pelosi told the Democratic Caucus that new drilling would be included in her comprehensive energy package later this week, alongside a group of tax breaks for renewable energy and an end to “taxpayer giveaways to Big Oil.”

She said the states affected by her bill would be at least the ones targeted by the Senate’s “Gang of 10” compromise.

“We are organized, we’re unified, we’re disciplined and we’re ready to go,” Pelosi said. “It will come down to this when it comes to energy. Whose side are you on? The side of the American consumer and the taxpayer, or Big Oil?”

Republicans also appear likely to finally get a vote on their broader drilling and energy package later this week. Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said Pelosi’s bill would come to the floor under a rule.

Democrats have brought numerous energy bills up under suspension to avoid votes on Republican amendments.

Rep. Gene Green (Texas), an oil-patch Democrat who is helping to draft the bill, said the compromise plan would allow drilling 50 miles off the coast of Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia, and 100 miles off of the Gulf Coast of Florida.

Green said that he would like to have seen more but that “not everyone gets everything they want.”

Green said the newly opened areas would take a while to produce, though the area west of Florida could be up and running relatively quickly because it is adjacent to existing Gulf pipelines.

“It seems like everyone is equally unhappy, and I think that’s good,” Rep. Jason Altmire (D-Pa.) said after the Caucus meeting. Altmire said he would rather have seen more offshore drilling, more nuclear provisions and a greater emphasis on clean coal.

But Altmire said the bill outlined in Caucus could become law.

“I think we struck a balance that is going to allow us to pass a bill,” he said. “It’s a legitimate compromise.”

No faction came away entirely pleased. Some Members opposed any nuclear provisions, for example, and others wanted more or less drilling.

The plan will also include other Democratic proposals shot down by Republicans before the August break, including “use it or lose it” provisions for leases on public land.

Democratic leaders have yet to finish drafting the bill, and with Pelosi facing grumbling from various sides, it’s still unclear whether they will be able to get their act together in time for a vote later this week.

A House Democratic leadership aide acknowledged that Members are concerned that they are getting beat up on the issue of drilling and that they want to be “armed to hit back.”

Republicans slammed the proposal as a “sham” that is intended to give Democrats political cover but would permanently lock up potentially enormous reserves off of the West Coast and the Northeast.

“If either side tries to pass a bill that’s not bipartisan, they are not serious about getting a bill to the finish line,” said Rep. John Peterson (R-Pa.), who has crafted a bill centered on broader offshore drilling with Rep. Neil Abercrombie (D-Hawaii) that has bipartisan support. “Abercrombie and I have a bill ready to go,” he said, complaining that Democratic leaders have yet to reach out to Republicans.

“Most Democrats I’ve talked to have no more idea what’s in [Pelosi’s] bill than I do,” he said.

And Peterson complained that if Pelosi locks up the rest of the coast permanently instead of extending the annual ban that now exists, “that’s a step backward.”

Republicans kept up their months-long drumbeat for a vote on their energy package, which would open land offshore and in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge and use much of the proceeds to boost renewable energy and conservation.

Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) panned the proposal.

“It leaves most American energy under lock and key when we should be doing everything possible to expand energy production, increase conservation and promote development of clean, renewable energy,” he said.

Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said that next week will be “energy week” in the Senate and that he hoped to hold at least three votes on energy bills, including a Democratic proposal under development by Energy and Natural Resources Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.), a Republican alternative and a bipartisan proposal by the “Gang of 10.”

That proposal would partly lift the drilling ban and invest billions in alternative energy sources. It also would revoke industry tax breaks, while boosting nuclear power.

Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), who star ed the effort along with Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.), suggested Tuesday that an announcement on additional gang members might occur later this week. “Our gang is going to grow some more,” he said.

Conrad said he was contacted by five or six Senators about joining the group on Monday alone.