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WASHINGTON -- As the nation continues to recoil from rising gas prices, President Bush reversed a longstanding position by calling on Congress to end a federal ban on offshore oil drilling, reported The New York Times. Bush now supports states determining where drilling should occur.
White House press secretary, Dana Perino, told The New York Times that Bush would urge Congress to "pass legislation lifting the Congressional ban on safe, environmentally friendly offshore oil drilling," adding, "The president believes Congress shouldn't waste any more time."
Yesterday, Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona, the party's presumptive presidential nominee, gave a speech in Houston to a group of oil executives that had him in lockstep with the president. Florida's governor, Charlie Crist, a Republican, joined the chorus, saying he, too, wants to lift the ban.
First enacted in 1992, the Congressional moratorium has been renewed every year since, including by George Herbert Bush who signed an executive order in 1990 banning coastal oil exploration, a stance son and brother Jeb supported as an outspoken opponent of offshore drilling when he was governor of Florida.
The moratorium prohibits oil and gas leasing on most of the outer continental shelf, three to 200 miles offshore. The New York Times reported that Republicans are proposing several bills to undo the ban. While they all slightly differ on how close to shore drilling could begin, each proposal states a veto on oil exploration within 100 miles of their coastlines.
The Federal Energy Information Administration estimates that roughly 75 billion barrels of oil in the United States are off-limits for development, and that 21 percent of this oil, or 16 billion barrels, is covered by the offshore moratorium.
Bush, a former oil man whose 2000 presidential campaign was built on developing plans to deal with energy shortages, and McCain are receiving intense opposition from Democratic Party leaders including presidential hopeful Barack Obama who chastised his opponent for flip-flopping.
"His decision to completely change his position and tell a group of Houston oil executives exactly what they wanted to hear today was the same Washington politics that has prevented us from achieving energy independence for decades," Obama said in a released statement.
Democrats content that this approach is short-sided and will not address energy issues or the current price of gasoline. Industry analysts say that even if drilling were to start today, Americans would not see relief at the pump for as many as 10 years.