Muckraker: Grist on Politics

Some Senate Democrats are warming to the idea of opening some offshore areas in U.S. waters to oil and gas drilling, as we reported earlier this week. A few more may now be joining the ranks.

Republicans in Congress have hyped the need to drill, and representatives are under pressure from constituents to do something about gas prices. Bending on drilling at least politically creates the appearance of doing something, despite the fact that opening offshore areas to production won’t actually lower oil or gasoline prices until about 2030 — if it does then. Even the head of the Energy Information Administration says that offshore drilling wouldn’t affect the price of gas very much.

Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said this week that he’s “open to drilling and responsible production,” and apparently Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is also considering it. According to today’s news, Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown is also considering supporting more drilling, despite having formerly opposed it.

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Some Democrats on the House side, mostly the conservative “Blue Dogs,” are joining the Republican call for more drilling. “I propose that we drill in ANWR,” said Rep. Mike Ross (D-Ark.). “We’ve already got a pipeline going to Alaska, the ANWR, that can handle two million barrels a day. We’re only putting one million in it. Let’s fill it up.”

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) spoke in favor of a compromise with some drilling this week, noting that 20 million acres in the National Petroleum Reserve Alaska, an area set aside by Congress for oil drilling in case of emergency, could be made available for leases. Hoyer is pushing a plan that would mesh opening this area with forcing more drilling on the 68 million acres of already available land, a move that failed last month in a separate bill.

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Meanwhile, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) reiterated her stance that drilling isn’t sound energy policy. “This call for drilling in areas that are protected is a hoax, an absolute hoax on the part of the Republicans and this administration,” she said yesterday.