July 21, 2008
By Ben Lieberman
With only six months left in office, President Bush has finally
repealed presidential restrictions on oil drilling in American
waters. Now it's Congress' turn to do the same and start bringing
more domestic energy online.
To almost anyone outside of Washington, making better use of
domestic energy resources would seem a painfully obvious step at a
time when gasoline is topping $4 a gallon. However, much of the
nation's energy potential remains off-limits. This includes 85
percent of the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS), thanks to
longstanding government prohibitions.
Congressional restrictions have been in place since 1982, while
the White House policy was instituted by the first President Bush
in 1990 and was later extended by Bill Clinton.
At the time, gas was little more than $1 a gallon and the need
for additional oil supplies less pressing. However, the current
president, despite battling $2, then $3, and now $4 a gallon gas
during his presidency, had kept these outdated restrictions in
place. Until now.
Mr. Bush should have taken this step between 2001 and 2006, when
he had a Republican Congress more likely to cooperate with him. But
better late than never, and Mr. Bush now is gamely urging
Democratic leaders in Congress to "show that they have finally
heard the frustrations of the American people by matching the
action I've taken today, repealing the congressional ban, and
passing legislation to facilitate responsible offshore
But Democrats have made clear that it will be an uphill battle.
Several bills have been introduced in Congress that would allow
each coastal state to decide whether it wants drilling off its
coast. Thus far, the Democratic congressional leadership has
refused to allow any of these measures to even come to a vote.
Apparently, they don't want to anger environmental activists who
oppose additional drilling, but they don't want to be on record
against such a pro-energy measure in an election year.
The Interior Department estimates there are 19 billion barrels
of oil in these restricted areas, equivalent to 30 years of current
imports from Saudi Arabia. And such initial estimates tend to be
low, sometimes by wide margins.
The only reason not to drill is because of environmental
concerns, especially the risk of offshore oil spills. However, new
technologies greatly reduce the risks, and any new drilling would
be subject to the strictest standards - something that can't be
said of oil imports. These technologies were put to the test by the
brutal winds and waves of Hurricane Katrina, which tore through the
only area where offshore drilling is common but didn't cause a
single significant spill. Even the aesthetic concerns can be
handled, by allowing states to limit platforms to areas too far
from the shore to disturb coastal views.
When it comes to energy policy, Mr. Bush is belatedly doing the
right thing. We can only hope that it's not too late for something
constructive to come of it.
Ben Lieberman is
senior policy analyst for energy and environment in the Thomas A.
Roe Institute for Economic Policy Studies at the Heritage Foundation.
First appeared in the Washington Times
With only six months left in office, President Bush has finally repealed presidential restrictions on oil drilling in American waters. Now it's Congress' turn to do the same and start bringing more domestic energy online.
Energy & Environment Initiative of the Leadership for America Campaign
Senior Policy Analyst, Energy and Environment
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