WASHINGTON - President Bush called on Congress yesterday to clear the way for offshore oil drilling, saying that it could match current production for 10 years and that new methods allow drilling that protects habitats against spills.
With Democrats in Congress opposed to drilling, Bush said that their opposition is "outdated and counterproductive" and that it "helped drive gas prices to their current level." Saying that $4-a-gallon gasoline prices should be "enough incentive" for Democrats to act, Bush asked, "How high do gas prices have to rise before the Democratic Congress will do something about it?"
Bush also called for exploration of Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, a new push for refineries (he blamed "lawsuits and red tape" for the fact that no new refineries have been built in 30 years) and mining of shale rock for oil.
The president made no mention of his father, President George H.W. Bush, who banned coastal oil exploration in 1990, or his brother, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who long opposed it, except to say that much of U.S. energy now "comes from abroad, that's what's changed in the last few decades," putting "our economy and our security at risk."
The White House statement came one day after Republican John McCain called for lifting the ban on offshore drilling.
White House press secretary Dana Perino, asked whether the son will lift the ban put in place by the father, told Fox News, "We need to make a change ... so that we can have more control over our own destiny."
Most Democrats were skeptical.
"To hear George Bush and John McCain say it, you'd think gasoline is going to run straight out of the ground and right into your car," said Sen. Robert Menendez of New Jersey.
"This is not a relief plan for American families; it's a relief plan for oil companies."
But Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana faulted the White House for taking so long. In a letter headlined, "Welcome to the off-shore energy fight, Mr. President ... We've been waiting for you," she argued that Bush should have taken the position seven years ago. "When we urged lifting the nation's ban on such production while there was a real possibility to act, this administration's courage could not be found."
In California, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said he opposed new offshore drilling.
"As governor of California, I will do everything in my power to fight the federal government on this issue and prevent any new offshore drilling," Schwarzenegger, a McCain supporter, said yesterday.
Another McCain ally, Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, reversed his opposition to oil exploration off the state's beaches after the presidential candidate said he supported lifting the moratorium. Crist said the issue is about local control.
"I think that not having that moratorium, blanket moratorium, and letting states' rights be recognized, if you will, certainly is appropriate," he said.
Virginia and South Carolina have largely supported lifting the moratorium. California is joined by North Carolina and New Jersey among the anti-drilling states.
Johanna Neuman and Richard Simon write for the Los Angeles Times. The Associated Press contributed to this article.