Drilling will be a hot topic as Congress swings back into action for the next three weeks. Having heard the GOP convention delegates’ none-too-subtle chants of “drill, baby, drill,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid says that next week will be “Energy Week” in the chamber: “We are offering Republicans multiple opportunities to vote for increased drilling.” The Senate will consider at least three proposals. One bipartisan proposal would allow drilling 50 miles off the Gulf coast of Florida plus the coastal areas of Virginia, South Carolina, North Carolina, and Georgia; another proposal, put forward by two Democrats, would lift a drilling ban in the eastern Gulf of Mexico and some other offshore areas. Both of those proposals would also rescind tax breaks for oil companies, and use the money to fund energy efficiency and alternative energy sources, as well as extend renewable-energy tax credits that are about to expire. A GOP-backed bill would lift drilling bans on both U.S. coasts and the eastern Gulf of Mexico, and has no provisions for inconveniencing Big Oil.
On the House side, more than 40 Republicans gathered Monday on the steps of the Capitol to demand that Speaker Nancy Pelosi allow a vote on a Republican energy package that would lift restrictions on offshore drilling and open up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Pelosi is drafting a Democratic energy proposal that’s expected to allow limited offshore drilling with environmental restrictions, as well as rescind oil-company tax breaks, extend tax credits for renewables, create a renewable-electricity standard for utilities, subsidize mass transit, and require that oil companies use or lose drilling leases they already have.
To add to the mix, the congressional moratorium on offshore drilling will expire on Sept. 30. Also, by that date, a spending bill must be passed to continue government funding into the new fiscal year that starts on Oct. 1. Republicans have threatened to oppose the spending bill if Democrats don’t agree to lift the congressional ban on offshore drilling — if they follow through, the move would effectively shut down the federal government.