WASHINGTON - President Bush lifted the 18-year-old White House ban on offshore drilling yesterday, but his action is likely to have no impact on prices or supplies anytime soon, if ever.
Bush talked tough yesterday, appearing in the Rose Garden and saying, "With this action, the executive branch's restrictions on this exploration have been cleared away.
"This means that the only thing standing between the American people and these vast oil resources is action from the U.S. Congress."
There are two bars to offshore drilling, one first imposed by Congress in 1981 and another signed by Bush's father, President George Bush, in 1990 and renewed in 1998 by President Bill Clinton. The federal government bans exploration and drilling off the Pacific and Atlantic coasts and most of the eastern Gulf of Mexico, to protect U.S. beaches and fisheries from pollution.
Senate Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin of Illinois said last week that he was open to some drilling. A June 26-29 CNN-Opinion Research Corp. poll found that 73 percent of people surveyed favored more drilling.
The presumptive Republican presidential nominee, Sen. John McCain, has made drilling a major part of his energy plan. His Democratic rival, Sen. Barack Obama, remains opposed. A spokesman, Bill Burton, said yesterday that drilling "would merely prolong the failed energy policies we have seen from Washington for 30 years."
Democratic leaders in the House of Representatives strongly oppose more drilling and called instead for releasing part of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve and expanding cleaner energy alternatives and greater efficiency. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California branded Bush's plan a "hoax," while House Democratic Caucus Chairman Rahm Emanuel of Illinois labeled it "a political stunt."
Republicans fired back, with Rep. John E. Peterson of Pennsylvania saying that drilling foes acted "at the behest of radical environmental groups," and Sen. Pete V. Domenici of New Mexico charging that Democrats were "inventing excuses and obscuring the issue."
However, even if Congress, which is scheduled to begin its summer recess Aug. 8, were to lift its ban on expanded drilling, consumers wouldn't see much change in their energy bills.
The U.S. government's Energy Information Administration reported last year that crude oil production would be 7 percent higher by 2030 if the ban were lifted on the offshore areas.