Washington — With gasoline topping $4 a gallon, President Bush urged Congress on Wednesday to lift its long-standing ban on offshore oil and gas drilling, saying the United States needs to increase its energy production. Democrats quickly rejected the idea.
"There is no excuse for delay," the president said in a statement in the Rose Garden. With the presidential election just months away, Bush made a pointed attack on Democrats, accusing them of obstructing his energy proposals and blaming them for high gasoline costs. His proposal echoed a call by Republican presidential candidate John McCain to open the Continental Shelf for exploration
"Families across the country are looking to Washington for a response," Bush said.
Congressional Democrats were quick to reject the push for lifting the drilling moratorium, saying oil companies already have under lease 68 million acres on federal lands and waters - outside the ban area - that are not being developed. Drilling proponents say that number is misleading because sometimes it takes years for actual development to take place.
Sen. Barack Obama, the Democrats' presumptive presidential nominee, rejected lifting the drilling moratorium that has been supported by a succession of presidents for nearly two decades.
"This is not something that's going to give consumers short-term relief and it is not a long-term solution to our problems with fossil fuels generally and oil in particular," said Obama. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, lumping Bush with McCain, accused them of staging a "cynical campaign ploy" that won't help lower energy prices.
"Despite what President Bush, John McCain and their friends in the oil industry claim, we cannot drill our way out of this problem," Reid said. "The math is simple: America has just three percent of the world's oil reserves, but Americans use a quarter of its oil."
Bush said offshore drilling could yield up to 18 billion barrels of oil over time, although it would take years for production to start. Bush also said offshore drilling would take pressure off prices over time.
There are two prohibitions on offshore drilling, one imposed by Congress and another by executive order signed by Bush's father in 1990. Bush's brother, Jeb, fiercely opposed offshore drilling when he was governor of Florida. What the president now proposes would rescind his father's decision - but the president took the position that Congress has to act first and then he would follow behind.
Bush also proposed opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for drilling, lifting restrictions on oil shale leasing in the Green River Basin of Colorado, Utah and Wyoming and easing the regulatory process to expand oil refining capacity.