WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Congressional Republicans vowed on Thursday to make a major push for more U.S. oil and gas drilling and in the process force Democrats to cast difficult votes at a time of skyrocketing gasoline prices.
With the November congressional and presidential elections looming, Republicans and Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives are blaming each other for rising energy costs and gasoline prices that are topping $4 a gallon.
Republicans cited Democratic opposition to opening up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and more offshore areas to oil and gas exploration and drilling.
House Minority Leader John Boehner of Ohio said Republicans would try to raise public awareness and force more votes on the issue. He said Republicans would back a comprehensive approach of more oil and gas drilling as well as energy conservation and moves toward alternative fuels supported by Democrats.
“Over the next five months, House Republicans will fight every single day to hold Democrats accountable for their dismal record on producing more energy in our country,” Boehner told reporters.
Many democrats oppose opening ANWR and more offshore sites to oil and gas drilling and support conservation and developing more alternative energy sources to reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil. But Republicans believe rising gasoline prices will build public support for expanding U.S. oil and gas development.
“We cannot drill our way out of this,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California countered. Opening the wildlife refuge in Alaska would reduce U.S. gasoline prices by one penny per gallon, she said. She and other Democrats blame President George W. Bush’s energy policies for the gasoline price spike.
“A barrel of oil now costs four times more than it did when President Bush took office,” Pelosi said. “Two oil men in the White House, cost of oil four times higher. Price at the pump: $4 a gallon.”
She said oil companies already lease about 68 million acres of land that is not being drilled. She questioned why oil companies were pushing to open up the ANWR in Alaska when so many acres they currently hold are not being developed.
On that point, a group of Democratic lawmakers introduced legislation that would compel oil companies to drill in lands they are now leasing from the federal government.
“Oil corporations are trying to take control of as much land now during the oil-friendly Bush administration years, but are holding off on drilling until the price of oil soars to $200 or $300 a barrel so they can make even greater profits,” said Rep. Maurice Hinchey, a New York Democrat and a sponsor of the drilling bill.
The bill would force oil companies to pay fees for leased lands that go unused. The fees would increase over time. Republicans argue current law already requires oil companies to “use or lose” the lands they lease.
Reporting by Donna Smith; Editing by David Alexander and Christian Wiessner