Nathan Stubbs

Congress takes up offshore drilling measures

by Nathan Stubbs

Offshore oil drilling is the issue on Capitol Hill this week. Where to allow drilling, and how, has become a political hot potato in the current election season, and this week, Congress is taking up a number of measures to address the issue. The debate remains heated, however, with Republicans accusing the Democratic majority of offering up sham proposals only designed to provide political cover to their members up for re-election.

The bill with the greatest, though still somewhat slim, chance of passing is the New Energy Reform Act of 2008. Proposed by the “Gang of 10” – five Republicans and five Democrats, including Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu – the proposal calls for lifting the moratorium on drilling in the Outer Continental Shelf of the eastern Gulf of Mexico, and gives Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina and Virginia the ability to opt in to allow exploration at least 50 miles off their coast. It also provides a number of green energy incentives, including $20 billion for improving fuel efficiency in cars. Critics of the plan note that the proposal will raise taxes on oil companies to meet its $84 billion price tag and that the plan still does not allow for drilling within 50 miles of the coast – an area oil companies contend is the richest and most feasible to drill. Both Landrieu's Republican colleague, Sen. David Vitter, and her Republican opponent in this year's Senate campaign, state Treasurer John Kennedy, have been vocal critics of the plan. Both Kennedy and Landrieu have accused each other of playing election year politics with energy issues.

This morning, the House of Representatives passed its own energy measure similar to the Gang of 10 proposal that now moves on to the Senate. The House bill, however, has been more widely criticized for not giving states revenue sharing in oil exploration royalties – thereby taking away the incentive for states to opt into the plan. In another twist, Congress’ moratorium on offshore drilling is set to expire on Sept. 30. If lawmakers can’t reach a compromise by that deadline, and the moratorium expires, it would allow drilling within three miles of all coasts.