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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

It's MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep, along the Grand Trunk Road, where some young people are deciding if their future is at home in Pakistan or abroad. We'll have more this hour.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

I'm Renee Montagne.

LYNN NEARY, host:

And I'm Lynn Neary.

This morning, we're also following the effects of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Public support for offshore drilling has fallen, though 54 percent of Americans still favor it, according to the Pew Research Center.

In Congress, some members are seeking measures that would ban offshore drilling.

NPR's Yuki Noguchi looks at what it could mean for the nation's energy future.

YUKI NOGUCHI: There's nothing like a long, rust-colored stream of sludge threatening the nation's Southern shores to bolster the case against offshore drilling.

Unidentified Group: Make it clean. Make it...

NOGUCHI: Here, a group of protestors chant in front of the White House. Washington, at least for now, appears to be listening. The Obama administration suspended its Virginia offshore drilling plan. Several new bills in Congress propose to halt all new activity on the West Coast or off all national waters.

In addition, the Senate's climate change bill includes new provisions allowing states to veto any federal plans to drill within 75 miles from their shores, and Florida may consider a ballot this fall blocking drilling off its shores. But some say cutting off future domestic drilling projects could do the country more harm than good.

Mr. GAL LUFT (Executive Director, Institute for the Analysis of Global Security): We should not overreact because there was an incident.

NOGUCHI: Gal Luft is executive director of the Institute for the Analysis of Global Security. The group is a think tank that advocates for greater energy independence. Luft says reducing consumption or investing more in alternative energy sources is not a practical solution to the fundamental problem.

Mr. LUFT: As long as our cars, trucks, ships and planes can run on nothing but oil, we will always be beholden to the same constraints that we are facing today.

NOGUCHI: Moreover, Luft says, though the U.S. now gets only an eighth of its energy from off its own shores, the supply from continental domestic reserves long ago peaked and is now diminishing. So he says cutting off offshore drilling will make energy more expensive, and the U.S. would become more dependent on oil-producing nations that pose a threat to the country.

Mr. LUFT: The price of oil will increase, and all of us will pay more at the pump. So from an economic standpoint, this is a self-defeating proposition, and from a national security standpoint, this is only going to exacerbate the very same problems we're trying to solve.

NOGUCHI: If there's one point both Luft and environmentalists agree about, it's that the prospect of cutting back domestic drilling has shed an unflattering light again on the country's dependence on foreign oil. But Athan Manuel, a lobbyist for the Sierra Club, says whether we expand drilling or not, either way, we're heavily dependent on oil imports.

Mr. ATHAN MANUEL (Lobbyist, Sierra Club): So we could drill everywhere. We could drill in Yankee Stadium, we could drill in Yosemite, and we would never find as much oil as we need to supply the demand here in the United States.

NOGUCHI: Manuel says the oil shocks of the early 1970s also inspired calls for more domestic oil production, but since then, U.S. crude oil imports have tripled. The only real solution, Manuel says, is to innovate through alternative energy sources. And without a moratorium on new drilling, there will be fewer incentives to do so.

The American Petroleum Institute argues no moratorium is necessary. The trade group ran ads like these promoting the benefits of offshore drilling in 2008, when President George W. Bush lifted an executive order banning the practice.

(Soundbite of American Petroleum Institute ad)

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Man: Now more than ever, it's time to put America's energy to work for Americans and America's economy.

NOGUCHI: That's still the basic argument Erik Milito makes today. Milito is API's director of Exploration and Production. He says the offshore industry supplies hundreds of thousands of jobs. But, he admits, given the visibility of the Gulf disaster, it's harder to make the pro-drilling case these days.

Mr. ERIK MILITO (Director, Exploration and Production, API): It's difficult given the incident in the Gulf, and we want that to be a one-time incident that never happens again.

NOGUCHI: He calls it a freak occurrence. But at least, he says, he can still say he has a majority of the public on his side.

Yuki Noguchi, NPR News, Washington.

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