Democrat-Backed Energy Bill Would OK Some Drilling

The House is poised to vote on an energy bill Tuesday that would expand offshore oil and gas drilling while also providing new tax incentives for alternative energy. Here are the highlights:

  • The bill would open up vast areas to offshore oil and gas drilling. States would have to opt in. They could approve drilling between 50 and 100 miles off the Atlantic and Pacific coasts. Drilling would not be allowed off the Florida coast in the eastern Gulf of Mexico.
  • States that opt in would not share in oil royalties.
  • The bill would lift a moratorium on leases for oil shale in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming if approved by the states.
  • The measure would require that utilities get 15 percent of their power from renewable sources by 2020.
  • The bill would provide billions of dollars in new tax incentives for renewable energy, energy-efficient buildings, new coal technologies and alternative fuels for cars. It would extend existing tax credits for producing energy from wind and other sources.
  • The tax breaks would be offset by changes in tax policy for oil companies.
  • The bill includes a new ethics policy for the Minerals Management Service, which oversees leasing programs.

The U.S. House is poised to vote on a Democratic energy plan Tuesday evening. Leaders say they're responding to Republican calls to "drill, baby, drill" by opening up some U.S. waters to offshore drilling in return for extra incentives for alternative energy.

Republicans call the plan a political sham.

With high gas prices on voters' minds this election year, Democratic leaders have been under increasing pressure to lift a congressional moratorium on most offshore oil and gas drilling.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), a longtime opponent of offshore drilling, now supports what she calls a compromise to open the Outer Continental Shelf, expand incentives for alternative energy and do away with $18 billion in tax breaks for the oil and gas industry.

"My colleagues have told me to tell you it's time for an oil change in America, and this bill represents that," she said.

The bill restricts drilling to waters at least 100 miles off the coastline — closer only if states want it.

"If you want to drill, the state must agree, and you cannot begin any sooner than 50 miles out to sea," Pelosi said. "And by the way, we're not subsidizing your drilling. So this is a complete turning upside down."

The bill would require utilities to generate 15 percent of their power from renewable sources by 2020. It extends tax credits for alternative energy from sources such as the wind and the sun, and it creates tax incentives for plug-in hybrid cars, cellulosic ethanol and energy-efficient homes.

Massachusetts Democrat Edward Markey says it will help break the nation's dependency on oil.

"They keep saying on the Republican side, 'Drill, baby, drill.' What we're saying is 'Change, baby, change,' and they can't change," he said. "They're still out here with the Big Oil agenda. They're still out here saying no to wind, no to solar, no to efficiency, no to geothermal, no to the future. Innovate, baby, innovate; change, baby, change."

Republicans argue, however, that America needs more domestic oil and gas to make the transition to alternative fuels. And they say most of that oil is inside the 50-mile buffer zone the Democrats are calling for. Ohio Republican Rep. Jim Jordan says the bill provides little incentive for increased drilling.

"To help families across this country, we need a real energy plan — not a sham," he said. "Here's the Democrat plan: No real offshore drilling. No drilling in [the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge]. No nuclear power.

"No revenue sharing with the states. But you know what's in the plan? Tax increases. Think about that. At a time we want the economy to grow, they're raising taxes. At a time when we need more oil, they're going to tax the very people who produce the oil."

Republicans also don't like the way the bill came to the floor.

"When a bill gets filed at 9:45 the night before, and then it's announced it's going to come to the floor the next morning as first bill up — a bill that no one has read, written in the dark of night, that won't do a damn thing about American energy. Enough is enough!" House Minority Leader John Boehner said.

He says it's all about political cover.

"This is intended for one purpose and one purpose only. ... So some of my friends in the majority, the Democrat Party, can say we voted on energy."

Many energy experts say there's not much of anything Congress can do to bring down prices at the pump.

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