House plan for offshore drilling

Capitol News Connection

The drilling provision, however, didn't gain any Republican support and disappointed some Democrats. Capitol News Connection's Sara Sciammacco has this report.

All summer long, Republicans pounded on Democrats for not allowing additional drilling. Polls show the majority of Americans, pained by high gas prices, favor more drilling. And some Democrats are feeling the pressure.

Virginia Democratic Congressman Bobby Scott: "The politics of it has gotten to the point where, you know, it's something that an overwhelming portion of the public wants, but I think the substantive reality is it won’t make any difference on gas prices."

After a week of negotiations within the party behind closed doors, Democrats put out a plan that would lift the drilling ban one-hundred miles off coast. Between fifty to a hundred miles, it would be up to each state to decide whether to allow for oil rigs. Such a position dismayed environmentally-minded party members, including Northern Virginia Democrat Jim Moran.

"It seems to me it would be nice to set aside 20 percent for future generations instead of using up everything that’s available to this generation and using it in a way that's wasteful."

But Virginia Democrat Rick Boucher says he's encouraged: "I have always favored a formula that gives the states the final say and determining on whether or not offshore development can occur adjacent to those states.

The Virginia Senate voted in June against offshore drilling. The failed bill would set aside part of the drilling royalties to build the state's transportation system. It turned out that there wouldn’t be any royalties coming to the state anyway. Last night’s bill in Congress would keep all revenues for the federal government. Boucher says he’s disappointed but stopped short of criticizing his party leaders.

"Today the federal government owns the outer continental shelf. That means we own the oil or gas resource and the development of that resource would create a revenue flow to the federal sector. I think it’s appropriate to share that with the states and states of course would then decide how that money would be spent."

Virginia Republican Thelma Drake, who represents a district along Virginia Beach, says she's angry.

"All of the work that we've done in the time that I've been in Congress has worked on the assumption that there will be royalties to Virginia. So this is a devastating blow."

Drake points out states like Alabama and Louisiana get to take a chunk of the royalty pie when oil is produced off their coasts.

"It's totally unfair that you would set up a system in our country that you treat states differently. The bill is just disingenuous. It doesn’t what they portray to do. It certainly does not have my vote."

Democratic leaders say states will get more jobs by opening up the outer continental shelf. In addition to drilling, the bill would repeal some tax credits for oil companies to invest in renewable energy and conservation. It would also require utilities to produce fifteen percent of their electricity from renewable sources by 2020. Virginia Republican Randy Forbes says the requirement is unreasonable.

"Dominion power is going to have to increase their rates, because this is going to be passed on to consumers. So that’s a cost that consumers are going to pay in a already rising market."

Now the House bill is moving to the Senate -- it will have to compete with several different proposals. Some Senators have declared the House plan "dead-on-arrival" because it doesn't include sharing drilling revenues with states.

Created by Bureau Chief and Executive Producer Melinda Wittstock, Capitol News Connection provides insightful, localized coverage of participating stations' congressional delegations.

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