Staff and Wire Reports
WASHINGTON -- Putting pressure on congressional Democrats to back more exploration for oil, President Bush on Monday lifted an executive ban on offshore drilling that his stood since his father was president.
But the move, by itself, will do nothing unless Congress acts as well.
There are two prohibitions on offshore drilling, one imposed by Congress and another by executive order signed by the first President Bush in 1990. The current president, trying to ease market tensions and boost supply, called last month for Congress to lift its prohibition before he did so himself.
"The only thing standing between the American people and these vast oil resources is action from the U.S. Congress," Bush said in a statement in the Rose Garden. "Now the ball is squarely in Congress' court."
Bush criticized Congress for failing to lift its own ban on offshore drilling. "Failure to act is unacceptable," the president said.
"And now Americans are paying at the pump," he declared.
Congressional Democrats, joined by some GOP lawmakers from coastal states, have opposed lifting the prohibition that has barred energy companies from waters along both the East and West coasts and in the eastern Gulf of Mexico. A succession of presidents, from Bush's father -- George H.W. Bush -- to Bill Clinton, have sided against drilling in these waters, as has Congress each year for 27 years. Their goal has to been to protect beaches and coastal states' tourism economies.
"This proposal is something you'd expect from an oil company CEO, not the president of the United States," said Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., chairwoman of the Senate Environment Committee. "The president is taking special-interest government to a new level and threatening our thriving coastal economy."
Oklahoma's congressional delegation previously said they support lifting the ban.
Congresswoman Mary Fallin (R-Oklahoma City) praised the president's move on Monday.
"It is obvious that one immediate solution to rising energy prices is to find and develop more domestic oil and gas reserves," Fallin said in a statement. "Modern technologies have made offshore drilling safer and cleaner than ever before. We must move aggressively to open those offshore areas that were off limits for far too long.
Fallin said it is unfortunate that Congress has not made a similar move.
"I will continue to work with like-minded colleagues from both parties who understand the economic realities and who are determined to craft a sensible energy policy that will tap domestic oil and gas reserves while we move ahead on all fronts in conserving and in developing alternative energy sources," Fallin said. "Hopefully this decision by the President will inject some common sense into the debate in Washington."