House Democrats passed an energy bill Tuesday night, creating a potentially embarrassing situation for the Republican senators who joined the Gang of
10 16 20. On paper at least, the House bill opens more offshore areas to oil and gas drilling than the gang’s proposal does. That puts the Republicans who joined the gang to the left of Nancy Pelosi, the New York Times, and the Sierra Club on drilling.
Pelosi’s bill would allow oil and gas drilling in all coastal waters more than 50 miles offshore. Make no mistake: It’s still a sham energy bill, designed to give the Democrats political cover on drilling while keeping most of America’s offshore reserves locked up. Over 95 percent of the oil and gas off the Pacific coast lies within the 50-mile buffer zone that Pelosi’s bill would create.
But the Gang of 20’s proposal offers even less. It would set up the same 50-mile buffer, but only four states — Georgia, Virginia, and the Carolinas — would have the option of approving new oil and gas leases. The gang’s proposal would reduce the current 125-mile buffer in the eastern Gulf of Mexico to 50 miles, but that isn’t enough to allow producers to develop the Destin Dome, an enormous natural-gas field that lies 25 miles off the coast. Florida’s Atlantic coast and the Pacific would remain entirely off-limits.
Another area where the House bill goes farther than the gang’s proposal is oil shale. The bill would lift a moratorium that prohibits western states from leasing land for oil-shale development. The gang’s proposal is silent on the oil-shale moratorium. The technology for making oil shale commercially viable is still under development, but the best thing the government can do to spur innovation is get out of the way.
Multiple Senate sources tell National Review Online that Republicans in the gang are scrambling to bring its proposal in line with the House bill at the very least. But even if they get the Democrats in the gang to agree to the changes, the gang’s proposal would still be a weak substitute for current law.
The current congressional bans on offshore drilling and oil-shale leasing expire on October 1. Numerous Democrats, including Senate majority whip Dick Durbin, are on record saying that their party doesn’t have the votes to renew the bans. Simply letting the ban on offshore drilling lapse would open up an estimated 18 billion barrels of oil and 76 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.
The Gang of 10 put together its compromise energy bill before it became clear that, by wide margins, the public strongly desires policies that will increase American energy production. House Republicans answered the public’s call by demanding that Congress unlock America’s untapped reserves of oil and gas. Their leadership stood with them, and nearly all of them voted against the Democrats’ sham energy bill Tuesday night.
But the gang undermined this kind of cohesion in the Senate and made it difficult for Senate Republicans to hammer the Democrats on energy. The gang’s bill doesn’t stand much chance of passing, but it has given moderate Democrats a soft place to land on the drilling issue. This is not just bad politics; it has left the Republicans who joined the gang playing catch-up with Nancy Pelosi on policy. Their proposal shouldn’t be amended. It should be abandoned.
– Stephen Spruiell is an NRO staff reporter.