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Democrats Lack Votes to Extend Drilling Ban

House Democrats appeared ready Wednesday to allow offshore oil drilling nationwide after leaders realized they do not have the votes to extend a drilling moratorium.

Under legislation outlined Wednesday afternoon but still under discussion among Democrats, drilling would be allowed 50 to 100 miles offshore nearly everywhere provided that states agree to it. Drilling would be allowed 100 miles or more offshore on both coasts.

States would not receive revenue-sharing from the drilling, which Republicans argue is a necessary component to give coastal states incentives to allow the drilling.

Democrats are in a bind because the offshore drilling ban expires Sept. 30, and they lack the votes to extend the ban because many Democrats now support at least some offshore drilling and will refuse to vote for an extension.

Rep. Gene Green (D-Texas), who is helping draft the legislation, said the latest plan Wednesday afternoon was to allow offshore drilling 50 miles offshore nationwide with the exception of the Gulf Coast of Florida after Florida lawmakers threatened to revolt.

States such as California that have historically opposed new offshore drilling can continue their policies, though Green noted that a voter referendum is possible.

“Even without the eastern Gulf of Mexico, we’re opening up probably 100 million acres to drilling,” Green said.

Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) sounded resigned to the loss of the offshore drilling moratorium. Waxman said Democrats don’t have the votes and that it would be better for California to be able to control its own destiny.

“We’re looking at a moratorium expiring and the alternative is letting the states opt in,” Waxman said. “Better to let California have the option to make this decision itself.”

House Natural Resources Chairman Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.) also acknowledged that Democrats don’t have the votes to pass a continuing resolution that would retain the offshore drilling ban. Rahall said that if it expired, drilling would be allowed as close as three miles to shore.

Rahall said there was no need for revenue-sharing from oil development because coastal states would get jobs from drilling and the resources are not owned by the coastal states. “These are resources that belong to the American people as a whole,” he said.

Still, the timing and makeup of the bill remained in flux, with many Members saying they did not expect a vote until next week and Green saying that Texas Democrats had asked leadership that any vote take place today or be postponed until next week because of Hurricane Ike.

The bill still includes a controversial renewable electricity standard requiring that 15 percent of power come from renewable sources, as well as tax breaks for renewables, Green said.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) office outlined other pieces of the bill late Wednesday, including shifting tax breaks from oil companies to renewables, new requirements for natural gas vehicles, investments in carbon capture and sequestration, and incentives for energy-efficient buildings.

But it was the lack of revenue-sharing that prompted some Democratic grumbling.

“I’d love to see some revenue-sharing formula,” Rep. G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.) said. Butterfield said he’s OK with allowing North Carolina to drill off its coast but said the policy should be nationwide and not targeted to the Southeast as earlier versions were.

Michael Steel, a spokesman for Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio), slammed the idea of a nationwide offshore drilling plan that did not provide incentives to states to support it.

“Any offshore drilling plan that does not include revenue-sharing is a sham,” Steel said. “It will produce no new American energy. It’s another transparent attempt to give their Members political cover.”

Minority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) said the American public is starting to realize who is in charge and that Congress has not done anything. “It makes a big difference for our candidates around the country,” he said.

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