House Democrats plan moratoriums in continuing resolution

The US House's Democratic leadership has inserted offshore and oil shale leasing moratoriums into its continuing resolution draft less than a week after the full House passed a bill that would lift them.

Nick Snow
Washington Editor

WASHINGTON, DC, Sept. 23 -- The US House's Democratic leadership has inserted offshore and oil shale leasing moratoriums into its continuing resolution draft less than a week after the full House passed a bill that would lift them, House Republicans charged on Sept. 22.

The moratoriums were scheduled to expire Sept. 30. Prior to bringing what she said would be a comprehensive energy bill to the floor, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) seemed to suggest they might not need to be extended if the bill became law.

That looked increasingly unlikely as criticism of its restrictions on offshore oil and gas production mounted following its passage on Sept. 16. These included an outright ban on leasing up to 50 miles offshore in areas where it doesn't exist already, a provision to give neighboring states the right to veto a coastal state's request for leasing from 50 to 100 miles offshore, and denial of a share in federal revenues if a state sought such leasing.

Congress turns to the continuing resolution to keep the federal government open when it has not passed departmental budgets. The device, which traditionally was used to give lawmakers more time to finish the budget after the fiscal year has ended, previously was in effect for 30 or 60 days. Democrats passed one which ran for nearly 9 months when they took control of both congressional houses in January 2007 and found Republicans had not passed a budget when they had been in charge.

Congressional Republicans have said for several months that Democrats have tabled budget requests in committees to thwart GOP efforts to insert amendments lifting the leasing moratoriums. They said last week that Pelosi finally allowed a vote by the full House on a bill with so many restrictions that it would have trouble passing the Senate and probably would be vetoed by US President George W. Bush.

'Not only a slap in the face'
"As American families face unprecedented economic challenges, not the least of which is the high price [of gasoline and diesel fuel] at the pump, the inclusion of this 'bogus' drilling language is not only a slap in the face to millions of families, seniors and small businesses trying to make ends meet during our nation's energy crisis; it's unacceptable," said House Minority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio).

"Over the past week, the American people have come to realize what a sham the Democrats' latest 'no energy' bill really was when they brought it to the floor [Sept. 16], Boehner said. "It aimed to permanently lock up almost 90% of the best energy resources on the Outer Continental Shelf while blocking exploration of 1 trillion bbl of oil in the Intermountain West. The fact that the Democrats in charge of Congress may include this same fatally-flawed language in the continuing resolution shows that they are even more out of touch with the concerns of the American people than previously thought," he said.

Minority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) added, "If anyone had previously doubted whether the speaker's sham energy bill lacked both the merit and ability to become law, her intention to use a must-pass, temporary appropriations measure to sneak it through should erase all questions." He said Republicans would not stand idly by as Democrats try to continue the moratoriums. "It's my sincere hope that rank-and-file Democrats can impress upon the speaker the seriousness of our current energy crisis, and remind her of the lack of seriousness with which this approach is apparently being forced upon us," he said.

Jack Kingston (R-Ga.) urged Bush in a letter signed by 150 other House Republicans to veto any continuing resolution with moratoriums and announced that there are enough votes to keep the veto from being overridden.

"We have worked all year for a vote on this issue, and it's a shame that the only way to have an open debate is through the CR. If the speaker opened the floor for a full debate, this would not be necessary. In light of her refusal to do so, we're ready to force a vote and give the American people the right to explore American energy," Kingston said.

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