Bush to urge Congress to allow offshore drilling

.WASHINGTON (AP) _ President Bush plans to make a renewed push Wednesday to get Congress to end a long-standing ban on offshore oil and gas drilling, echoing a call by GOP presidential candidate John McCain.

Congressional Democrats have opposed lifting the prohibitions on energy development on nearly all federal Outer Continental Shelf waters for more than a quarter-century, including waters along both the East and West coasts.

With oil prices soaring and motorists paying $4 a gallon for gasoline, political pressures have been growing for more domestic oil and gas production.

“The president believes Congress shouldn’t waste any more time,” White House press secretary Dana Perino told The Associated Press on Tuesday.

“He will explicitly call on Congress to … pass legislation lifting the congressional ban on safe, environmentally friendly offshore oil drilling,” Perino said. “He wants to work with states to determine where offshore drilling should occur.”

Bush also will reiterate his call for development of oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska, Perino said. McCain has opposed drilling in the refuge, maintaining that the pristine areas in northeastern Alaska should be protected from energy development.

On Monday, McCain made lifting the federal ban on offshore oil and gas development a key part of his energy plan. The Arizona senator said states should be allowed to pursue energy exploration in waters near their coasts and receive some of the royalty revenue.

Bush has made clear in recent weeks that the drilling moratorium in coastal waters should end to allow for more domestic oil production and help “take the pressure off the price of gasoline.”

Democrats, as well as some Republican senators from coastal states, have opposed lifting the drilling prohibitions, fearful that energy development could harm tourism and raise the risk of oil spills on beaches.

Sen. Barack Obama, the Democratic candidate for president, opposes lifting the ban on offshore drilling and says that allowing exploration now wouldn’t affect gasoline prices for at least five years.

Congress imposed the drilling moratorium in 1981 and has extended it each year since by prohibiting the Interior Department from spending money on offshore oil or gas leases in virtually all coastal waters outside the western Gulf of Mexico and in some areas off Alaska.

President George H.W. Bush imposed a separate executive drilling ban in 1990, which was extended by President Clinton and then by the current president until 2012.

Bush has been considering lifting the executive ban as a symbolic move to get Congress to take action, but he decided against doing so for the time being, said an official who spoke on condition of anonymity because internal deliberations were involved.

The House Appropriations Committee was scheduled to vote on legislation Wednesday that included a provision that would continue the drilling moratorium into late 2009. Rep. John Peterson, R-Pa., planned to try to strip that provision from the bill. A proposal Peterson offered last week that would open all federal waters 50 miles from shore to oil and gas development was rejected by an Appropriations subcommittee on a 9-6 party-line vote.