How Not to Lower Gas Prices

President Bush's announcement today that he is lifting the Executive Ban placing a moratorium on new offshore drilling is disappointing, but really not that surprising. For the last 7½ years, he and Vice President Cheney have pushed an energy policy which focuses primarily on drilling everywhere. The result has been sky high energy costs for American consumers and record profits for big oil and gas.

As someone who lives in and represents Santa Barbara, CA and witnessed the horrible economic and environmental consequences of the huge 1969 oil spill, I know I have a certain bias against new offshore drilling. But even so, President Bush's call for more drilling as the solution to high gas prices hits a few dry holes.

First, a report last year threw cold water on the idea of new offshore drilling as the way to lower gas prices. It said that new offshore drilling "would not have a significant impact on domestic crude oil and natural gas production or prices before 2030" and that the impact on prices would be "insignificant." The source of this report is...the Bush administration's own Energy Information Administration!

Second, we simply can't drill our way to "energy independence" even if we wanted. The U.S. has less than 3% of world oil supplies, yet we make up nearly 25% of world demand. More drilling off our coasts (and in Alaska, for that matter) isn't going to change those numbers. No one should believe arguments that more drilling in these pristine areas means we will stop relying on oil from the Middle East, Venezuela or Russia. More drilling won't end our addiction to oil -- it just enables it.

Third, most people probably don't know that 80% of the oil and gas resources off our coasts are already available for leasing and drilling! While large swaths of our coasts are off limits to new drilling, the areas where most oil and gas are located are not. Listening to President Bush, Sen. McCain and others, you'd think we've been locking up all our resources -- the opposite is true.

Fourth, we are drilling more domestically than we have in years. Following on Vice President Cheney's ridiculous statement that conservation is merely a "personal virtue," the Bush administration's energy policy has basically been to drill for more oil and gas wherever they can and hope that the prices come down. It has leased public lands for drilling throughout the West, the Gulf Coast and elsewhere at a record pace over the last 7½ years.

Interestingly, right now the oil and gas industry is sitting on 68 million acres of public lands where it could be drilling but isn't. It has some 6,000 leases in the Gulf of Mexico (where the majority of oil and natural gas reserves are found) that are not being explored. According to Senator McCain and President Bush, the oil and gas industry wants to lower prices for American consumers but they can't because they're prevented from drilling. This couldn't be further from the truth.

So, we're drilling domestically more than ever, the oil industry already has access to most offshore resources, the industry is not drilling in millions of acres of public land that it has leased and, even if it did, it wouldn't release us from our reliance on foreign oil and it wouldn't lower prices. And more offshore drilling is the president's solution?

In contrast to these tired "drill only" proposals, Democrats have pushed a responsible, comprehensive energy policy to provide relief from these high prices and wean our economy off fossil fuels. In the short-term, we're calling on President Bush to immediately release oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR). Earlier this year it took an act of Congress to force the Bush administration to stop filling the SPR while oil is at record high prices. Now we are calling on him to release some of the SPR oil onto the market to help drive down prices. Similar actions have been taken several times, most recently by President Bush following Hurricane Katrina. Each time prices dropped significantly. Taking this simple step would probably reduce gasoline prices more in 10 days than President Bush's offshore drilling proposal would do in 10 years.
In addtion, oil and gas companies should "use or lose" access to the 68 million publicly held acres where they can currently drill but aren't. There's no reason that companies should be able to lock up oil and gas reserves on publicly held land when we've made a choice as a nation to begin extraction in those locations.

In the long term, we need to extend and increase tax incentives for alternative energy, like solar, wind and biomass, and require utilities to get an increasing share of their energy from renewable sources. This is being done in states like California and Texas already, but President Bush is fighting our effort to make this a nationwide mandate. We also have to become more energy efficient. The new Democratically controlled Congress already passed the first increase in fuel efficiency standards for cars in 32 years and took steps to make our appliances and buildings more energy efficient. But we have to do more. Much more.

Unfortunately, President Bush, Senator McCain and Congressional Republicans have responded to our serious energy challenges pushing political gimmicks like the gas tax holiday and new offshore drilling. These are the policies that got us into this mess in the first place and they aren't going to get us out of it.

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