WASHINGTON - House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said on Saturday when the U.S. Congress returns next month from its summer recess, Democrats will offer legislation that could give oil companies drilling access to more offshore areas.
By moving to open additional federal waters to energy exploration, Democrats could narrow the differences they have with Republicans on tackling America's energy problems, a concern that ranks high with voters heading into the November presidential and congressional elections.
Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama has changed his position and said he would be willing to consider new offshore drilling if it allowed comprehensive energy legislation to pass. His Republican challenger, John McCain, also switched his position and has called for opening most U.S. waters to drilling if the affected states agree.
In the Democrats' weekly radio address, Pelosi of California said expanding drilling areas would be part of a broader bill which addresses other energy issues.
"It will consider opening portions of the (offshore) Outer Continental Shelf for drilling, with appropriate safeguards, and without taxpayer subsidies to Big Oil," she said.
Pelosi said the legislation would require oil companies to pay billions of dollars in drilling royalties, which would be invested in clean energy resources.
Democrats also want to release supplies from the U.S. emergency oil stockpile to help lower gasoline prices, increase drilling in an Alaskan oil reserve that is already open to exploration and require utilities to generate a portion of their electricity from renewable sources like solar and wind energy.
In addition, Pelosi said, the legislation would seek to rein in excessive energy market speculation that many U.S. lawmakers blame for running up crude oil and gasoline prices.
"This comprehensive Democratic approach will ensure energy independence which is essential to our national security, will create millions of good paying jobs here at home in a new green economy, and will take major steps forward in addressing the global climate crisis," Pelosi said.
House Republican leader John Boehner of Ohio said the Democratic proposal falls short of Republican-sponsored legislation that would open more areas to oil drilling, including the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska.
"While the speaker now claims to embrace a comprehensive energy plan that includes more conservation, more innovation, and more American energy production, the fact is her new effort appears to be just another flawed plan that will do little to lower gas prices," Boehner said.
He said if Pelosi was serious about boosting domestic oil supplies, she would call the House back into session to take up such a bill. Congress is scheduled to return on September 8.
Editing by Mohammad Zargham
© 2008 Reuters