Political posturing produced the offshore oil drilling debate, and political posturing may be what results.
First the basics: Offshore oil drilling will not affect gas prices because oil is traded globally, it will take as long as 10 years to pump new oil there, and the amount pumped won't significantly affect world supply.
But it's a hot political issue because gas prices are high, and Republicans President Bush and presidential candidate John McCain, particularly have relentlessly talked up its potential to solve various energy problems facing the United States, from dependence on foreign oil to high energy prices.
President Bush removed the executive moratorium on offshore drilling 200 miles from the coast weeks ago, leaving the only remaining restriction the ban Congress must renew each year.
If Congress doesn't renew the ban, offshore oil drilling can take place within three miles of the coast.
Republicans can filibuster any attempt to renew the ban, leaving Democrats who oppose expanded drilling few options: tie the ban to a government spending bill, threatening the shutdown of government in an election year, or revise their stance and accept some new offshore oil drilling, within 50 or 100 miles of the coast (rationale: it's not 200, but it's not three either).
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is opting for the latter, but with enough restrictions that the apparent win for Republicans could turn into a political win for Democrats.
How? If offshore oil drilling takes place, but as Pelosi wants royalties go exclusively to the federal government, rather than the states, then states will have little incentive to open their waters to new offshore oil drilling. What's in it for them?
Congress will get the credit polls show most Americans support drilling for more oil for lifting the ban, but the restrictions will prevent most new drilling from taking place.
For that compromise, the House would pass a slew of environmentally friendly measures, including a provision to tax oil companies to generate money for renewable energy, as the Sierra Club's Athan Manuel points out:
"The package offered by Democratic leadership in the House would give a boost to the clean energy solutions that will pull us out of our energy crisis. House Democrats have made a significant overture by presenting a package that includes both the clean energy provisions we need to move America forward, as well as a compromise that expands drilling off our coasts."
The Sierra Club opposes the Senate's leading bill, which it says gives too much away to oil without investing in renewable energy.
That's the lay of the land, anyway, as we start the day Tuesday. The House is set to debate energy policy today.
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