Obama, GOP Continue to Defend Offshore Drilling

Posted April 30, 2010 at 4:46pm

Sometimes it takes a national disaster to bring adversaries together.

Such is the case with the massive oil spill off the Gulf Coast, which on Friday had the rare effect of putting President Barack Obama and pro-drilling Republicans on the same side as both move to defend offshore drilling.

In a press conference Friday, Obama detailed the federal response to the spill off the coast of Louisiana caused by an April 20 explosion on the Deepwater Horizon rig operated by BP.

But the president said the spill would not deter him from opening up other shorelines to drilling.

“I continue to believe that domestic oil production is an important part of our overall strategy for energy security, but I’ve always said it must be done responsibly, for the safety of our workers and our environment,” Obama said.

The White House said Friday that Obama still plans to end the long ban on drilling off much of the U.S. coastline but that it would be put on hold until the cause of the explosion can be determined.

House Republicans, who unsuccessfully lobbied President George W. Bush to repeal the ban in 2008, also continued to support offshore drilling in the wake of the massive spill.

House GOP Conference Chairman Mike Pence (Ind.) called the oil spill a “tragedy for the region and the environment” but said drilling must continue.

“It’s imperative that we get to the bottom of what happened and provide the resources to protect and clean up the environment,” Pence, who chairs the House GOP’s Energy Solutions Group, said in a statement. “It is also imperative that we remain committed to environmentally responsible domestic exploration.”

House Natural Resources ranking member Doc Hastings (R-Wash.) pointed to the safety record of other oil rigs in the area over the past 15 years and noted that no ruptures occurred during hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

“While Congress searches for answers, we cannot turn a blind eye to the continued need for increased American energy production, which is necessary for our economy, jobs and national security,” Hastings said in a statement.

Rep. Anh “Joseph” Cao (R), whose district includes New Orleans, said Friday he has asked the House Oversight and Government Reform and the Transportation and Infrastructure committees to conduct investigations into the spill. The explosion has claimed 11 lives, and the spill could turn out to be one of the worst environmental disasters in decades.

Spokesmen for both committees said Cao’s requests had been received but no decisions had been made on the probes.

“Five years ago, the federal government failed us during Hurricane Katrina,” Cao said during a news conference. “I will not stand by and let the government fail us again.”

Senate Republicans, meanwhile, have largely stayed quiet on the subject.

Most are waiting to see how the Obama administration responds, one GOP aide said.

“It’s a tough spot to be in,” a Republican aide acknowledged.

Republicans so far have focused their attention on the investigation of what went wrong rather than on criticizing Obama.

“I look forward to a better explanation of why the safety mechanisms failed resulting in the presumed death of 11 workers, the critical injury of others, and the risk of untold environmental damage,” Sen. George LeMieux (R-Fla.) said in a statement last week.

LeMieux’s home-state colleague Sen. Bill Nelson (D) has been an outspoken critic of the administration’s offshore drilling plan in the wake of the Gulf Coast spill, calling for an moratorium until an investigation is completed. Obama heeded that call Friday. Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) used the opportunity to make the case that states with offshore drilling should benefit with revenue sharing.

“As we move forward with the recovery process, I hope that the rest of the country will realize that our state needs to be fairly compensated for this burden through increased revenue sharing from offshore production,” Vitter said in a statement Friday.