- The Washington Times - Friday, December 1, 2006

ASSOCIATED PRESS

House Republicans agreed yesterday to move a compromise offshore-drilling bill passed by the Senate this summer that would open new territory in the Gulf Coast area to oil rigs and create a cash cow for nearby states.

But it wasn’t clear whether party leaders could summon enough votes to pass it quickly before lawmakers adjourn in the coming weeks.

With time running out on the party’s majority rule, Republican leaders will send the measure to the floor Tuesday as a “suspension” bill requiring a two-thirds majority to pass, said Kevin Madden, a spokesman for House Majority Leader John A. Boehner of Ohio.

House leaders previously had blocked the bill, hoping for more ambitious legislation that would allow drilling in coastal waters across the country unless a state objects. But industry groups have lobbied heavily for Republicans to take what they can get and pass the Senate bill.

Mr. Madden said Republican leaders would support the compromise measure and work to pass it. Moving it as a “suspension” bill will speed the process and block amendments, lawmakers said.

Dave Parker, president and chief executive of the American Gas Association, said the hurdle of winning a two-thirds majority could prove difficult but that he was optimistic.

“We’re pleased that this bill is going to move … you take what you can get,” Mr. Parker said.

President Bush has offered lukewarm support, at best, for the measure. He has said he supports new offshore exploration but has criticized revenue-sharing provisions that would divert money from federal coffers.

The bill would allow new oil and natural gas development in 8.3 million acres of federally controlled waters in the eastern-central Gulf of Mexico, with backers saying it would help ease tight markets, particularly for natural gas. The Senate passed the bill 71-25 in August.

With opening new territory, the bill would sharply increase royalty shares for Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Texas from less than 2 percent to 37.5 percent. In 2017, the new royalty formula would apply to all oil and gas produced in the Gulf, not just from the 8.3 million acres newly opened.

“We’re obviously working hard to make sure that we have the necessary votes,” said Rep. Bobby Jindal, Louisiana Republican, who has pushed the proposal. “We’re optimistic this time. It’s a compromise approach, and I think it’s done in a way that can get that supermajority.”

At least one lawmaker who previously opposed the compromise, Rep. John E. Peterson, Pennsylvania Republican, said he would support it as an incremental improvement even though he thinks it accomplishes too little.

Rep. Jack Kingston, Georgia Republican, said the bill would send a positive signal to voters as Republicans transition into the minority.

“It would be good if we could get a few things done on the way out the door and show people that … we really can govern.”

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