Nelson criticizes Kempthorne's OCS leasing plan

US Sen. Bill Nelson said Interior Secretary Dirk A. Kempthorne has taken "a questionable step" in beginning to prepare a new 5-year OCS oil and gas leasing plan ahead of schedule.

Nick Snow
Washington Editor

WASHINGTON, DC, Aug. 4 -- US Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) said Interior Secretary Dirk A. Kempthorne has taken "a questionable step" in beginning to prepare a new 5-year Outer Continental Shelf oil and gas leasing plan ahead of schedule.

"It is becoming increasingly clear that [US President George W. Bush] is set on putting oil rigs off the state of Florida before he leaves office in January, regardless of the fact it will have no effect on energy prices. The president's plan for lifting the quarter century ban on offshore drilling has been called 'cruelly misleading,' and rightly so," Nelson said in a July 31 letter to Kempthorne.

"You and he both know exploiting our coastlines won't bring down gasoline prices. In fact, a recent report from inside the administration's energy office found it will have no impact on prices," he maintained.

Nelson said the secretary, who announced on July 30 that he was beginning preparation of the next 5-year OCS leasing plan 2 years earlier because of higher crude oil and natural gas prices, took the "highly unusual step" when the current plan has been in operation "only a little more than 1 year."

"Existing federal law established a ban on such preleasing activities. Public Law 109-432 prohibits any leasing, preleasing, or other activity east of the Military Mission Line in the Gulf of Mexico…until June 30, 2022," he wrote Kempthorne.

Nelson said the real answer to record-high gasoline prices is the rapid deployment of alternative fuels and vehicles such as cars that run on hydrogen instead of petroleum. Oil and gas producers also need to drill more aggressively on federal land they have leased already, he added.

House Republicans have opposed serious, responsible proposals to increase supply, reduce prices, protect consumers, and transition America to a clean renewable energy independent future added Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). "The American people deserve better," she said.

Republicans in the Senate, where a bill with similar provisions was defeated the previous week, as well as in the House question Democrats' assertions that excessive energy commodities speculation by index funds and institutional investors is largely responsible for inflated crude oil prices. House Republicans also charge that Pelosi keeps bringing bills to the floor under suspended rules so amendments leading to a fuller energy issues debate can't be proposed.

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com.

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