President Bush on Monday repealed an executive order banning offshore drilling for oil in the U.S. Outer Continental Shelf, increasing pressure on the Democratic-controlled Congress to follow suit and remove their own moratorium.
“With this action, the executive branch’s restrictions on this exploration have been cleared away. This means that the only thing standing between the American people and these vast oil resources is action from the U.S. Congress,” Mr. Bush said, in a statement to reporters at the White House.
Almost a month ago, Mr. Bush called on Congress to lift their ban on offshore drilling and said he would lift the presidential prohibition, instituted by his father in 1990, whenever Democrats did the same.
On Monday he did what many said he should have done last month, acting unilaterally to put maximum stress on Democrats’ opposition to offshore drilling, which he said could yield enough oil to supply the U.S. for 10 years.
“The time for action is now. This is a difficult period for millions of American families They are rightly angered by Congress’ failure to enact common sense solutions,” Mr. Bush said.
The Bush administration’s political calculation is that with gas heading toward $5 a gallon for car drivers, public demand for some meaningful action has grown so intense that Democrats will be forced to capitulate or suffer the consequences.
The upcoming presidential election only maximizes the potential negative political effect for Democrats.
“We wanted to work with Congress on it. The Democratic leaders in Congress have not shown a willingness to move forward,” said White House press secretary Dana Perino Monday morning.
“Were going to move forward. Hopefully that will spur action by Congress. The ball is now squarely in their court. I’m sure Americans will be watching what they do,” she said.
The presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, Sen. Barack Obama, of Illinois, quickly criticized Mr. Bush’s move.
“If offshore drilling would provide short-term relief at the pump or a long-term strategy for energy independence, it would be worthy of our consideration, regardless of the risks. But most experts, even within the Bush Administration, concede it would do neither,” said Obama spokesman Bill Burton.
“It would merely prolong the failed energy policies we have seen from Washington for thirty years. Senator Obama believes Americans need real short-term relief, which is why he has proposed a second round of stimulus with energy rebates for working families,” Mr. Burton said.
The White House, and many oil market experts, say that opening up the OCS along U.S. coasts, along with the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve, will send a meaningful signal to the market and bring down costs, despite the fact that no oil would actually come on line for several years.
They also contend that until the U.S. transportation and manufacturing sectors are able to diversify their energy away from oil and toward other fuels, the U.S. must increase their domestic output.
Democrats have largely already been forced to agree with that conclusion, but continue to oppose drilling in the OCS and ANWR.
The Institute for Energy Research, an advocacy group considered by some to be too closely allied with energy companies, estimates that the OCS contains about 86 billion barrels of oil, citing a report by the U.S. Minerals Management Service.
The U.S. consumes about 7.5 billion barrels of oil a year, according to IER.
Democratic leaders and are calling on the president to release a “small portion” of oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. They have already passed a law to temporarily stop the administration from continuing to fill the SPR, which is currently at 700 million barrels of oil.
“Taking oil out of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve in a careful, responsible way is the fastest way to bring down the price at the pump,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, last week.
Democrats also say that oil companies are sitting on about 70 million acres of leased oil fields off of U.S. coasts that are open for drilling, but are declining to do so to drive up prices and maximize profits.
The White House rejected that idea.
“It doesnt make economic sense to think that anyone is sitting on any extra oil that they could be selling,” Mrs. Perino said.
IER President Thomas Pyle, who last month criticized Mr. Bush for not taking this step then, applauded the move.
“Fortunately, we appear to be nearing the end of nearly three decades of short-sighted, one-size-fits-all policies that restrict access to domestic supplies despite explosive global demand,” Mr. Pyle said.