Washington The House, responding to growing public demand for more domestic energy, voted Wednesday to end a quarter-century ban on oil and natural gas drilling off the Atlantic and Pacific coasts, giving Republicans a major victory on energy policy.
An extension of the ban for another year was left off a $630 billion-plus stopgap government spending bill that President Bush had threatened to veto - possibly shutting down the government - if the anti-drilling measure were included.
The bill was approved 370-58 and now goes to the Senate, where it is likely to be approved within the next few days, also without the drilling ban.
The decision to avoid a fight with the White House over offshore drilling marks a major shift by Democrats on energy policy and a reflection that the GOP argument for more domestic energy production had found a support among voters this election year, even though coastal states long have worried that offshore drilling might cause spills, soil beaches and threaten their tourist businesses.
Republican presidential nominee John McCain has made expanded offshore drilling a central part of his campaign, arguing that access to an estimated 18 billion barrels of oil in the off-limits Outer Continental Shelf is essential if the country is to become more energy independent.
McCain's Democratic presidential rival, Barack Obama, also has endorsed limited expansion of offshore drilling, but only as part of a broader energy package that boosts use of alternative energy sources and increases efficiency.
Lifting the offshore ban does not itself mean drilling in the offshore waters is imminent. But it could set the stage for the Interior Department to offer leases in some Atlantic federal waters as early as 2011 under its current five-year offshore drilling plan.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a statement: "Unfortunately, the president's willingness to veto any sensible compromise on offshore drilling, which would have threatened to shut down the government and send a dangerous signal during these hard economic times and a financial crisis on Wall Street, led to the expiration of the current moratorium."