- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 18, 2011

A Republican oil drilling bill fell flat in the Senate on Wednesday, unable to garner even the support of all members of the GOP and underscoring the gridlock that prevails in Congress on energy issues.

The bill, which would have pushed the Obama administration to lease more territory for drilling, only got 42 votes of support from the GOP, well short of the 60 needed to advance. Five Republicans joined 52 Democrats in opposing the measure.

Sen. David Vitter, a Louisiana Republican who voted against the bill, said the Republican bill offered by Minority Leader Mitch McConnell would actually add a new layer of safety regulations that could slow companies that are finally coming to terms with drilling a year after the BP oil spill.

Other senators said the bill went too far to nationalize decision-making in Washington, taking it out of the hands of states.

“A year ago, oil was still spewing unabated off the coast of Louisiana,” said Sen. Olympia J. Snowe, Maine Republican. “Clearly, decisions about offshore drilling have dramatic implications for coastal states. I strongly believe the future of the Gulf of Maine must remain in the hands of Mainers, and we should afford states’ rights to manage our ocean resources.”

The debate over energy has heated up as gas prices nationwide flirt with $4 per gallon. This weekend President Obama announced his own unilateral steps he said he will take to try to lease more land for exploration.

The Republicans’ failed bill would have reopened leases the Obama administration canceled after the BP spill, required the government to accept previous environmental assessments of some leases, and set a deadline for the administration to accept or deny drilling requests which Republicans said was needed to prevent the Interior Department from slow-walking decisions. The bill did require outside certification of oil spill response plans.

“It’s time to stop holding Americans back with moratoriums, fees, bureaucratic roadblocks, and the ever-expanding reach of a president who seems to think that business owners in this country need to get his permission first if they want to create jobs,” Mr. McConnell said before the vote.

House Republicans last week pushed through pro-drilling bills similar to Mr. McConnell’s legislation, but Wednesday’s vote signals those are not likely to go anywhere.

The bill’s failure comes a day after Senate Republicans blocked Democrats’ plan to end tax breaks for the major five oil companies. Taken together, the votes show gridlock continues to prevail in the Senate when it comes to energy issues.

The Republicans who joined Democrats in addition to Mr. Vitter and Mrs. Snowe were Sens. Jim DeMint of South Carolina, Mike Lee of Utah and Richard C. Shelby of Alabama.

• Stephen Dinan can be reached at sdinan@washingtontimes.com.

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