GOP Senators Vow to Fight House Democrats’ New Ban on Offshore Drilling

By Josiah Ryan | September 18, 2008 | 10:49 PM EDT

Conservative Senate Republicans told that if the House bill that would permanently ban oil-drilling within 50 miles of the U.S. coast comes to the Senate floor, they will do everything they can to block its passage.

( – The battle over offshore drilling on the U.S. Outer Continental Shelf has now shifted to the Senate.

Senators Chuck Schumer-(D-N.Y.) and Pattie Murray (D-Wash.) told on Thursday that they have not yet decided whether oil drilling should be allowed within 50 miles of U.S. shores. The energy bill that passed the House on Tuesday would ban all oil drilling within 50 miles of the U.S. coast.

Conservative Senate Republicans, however, told that if the House bill comes to the Senate floor, they will do everything they can to block its passage.

“I don’t know,” Schumer said when asked him if he agreed with Democratic House leadership that oil drilling within 50 miles of the shoreline should be banned. “I need to look at all the proposals," he said.

“I have not seen all the specifics of that bill, but we have to be very careful of the economy and extremely careful we are not just having a political vote for an election that can affect our country for decades,” Murray told in response to the same question. “It depends on how the bill is written, and so far I haven’t seen one that provides the protections that are important.”

Pointing to estimates by the Interior Department’s Minerals Management Service, which oversees offshore oil drilling leases, Republicans say that most of America’s undiscovered offshore oil lies within the 50 mile zone.

“We will never get over this crisis if don’t recognize that 90 percent of the oil is within that 50 miles and we have got to get at it,” Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) told on Thursday.

In addition to banning drilling within 50 miles of the coast, the Democratic energy package would give authority to individual states to decide if they will allow drilling in federal waters beyond the 50-mile marker.

The bill also retains bans any drilling within 125 miles of Florida’s Gulf coast, and it permanently blocks drilling in all national marine monuments and national marine sanctuaries.

“I certainly believe there should be a ban where it could have a direct impact on coastal communities and the tourism industry,” Assistant Majority Leader Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) told when he was asked if he believes drilling should be allowed within 50 miles of the coast.

Durbin added that he has “serious questions” about whether drilling is the answer to high fuel prices.

“Beyond that I have serious questions about whether this is the answer to America’s energy problem,” he said. “From the Republican side, it’s the only answer, and I think it is completely shortsighted to think we can drill our way out of this.”

If the bill does reach the floor of the Senate, it will face stiff opposition from Republicans, many of whom say the proposal is not a serious effort to produce more energy.

“That is not an energy package,” Sen. Tom Colburn (R-Okla.) told on Thursday. “It’s an anti-energy package.”

Colburn, who has built his reputation on filibustering liberal legislation, added that he will “do everything he can to stop” the House bill if it reaches the Senate floor.

“I’ll oppose it of course,” Inhofe told on Thursday. “The Democrats are going to continue to do what the far left environmentalists, Hollywood elitists tell them to do. They will continue to do what they are told."

President Bush also has threatened to veto the bill.

In July, President Bush lifted the executive ban on offshore drilling that was put in place by his father, President George H.W. Bush, in 1990 and sustained by President Bill Clinton.

On September 30, the existing ban on selling offshore oil drilling leases will expire, and if it happens, the federal government can then start the two-year process necessary to actually auction new leases.

The Democratic energy bill, which passed the House 263-189 on Tuesday, would supplant the total ban on offshore drilling in U.S. waters and replace it with a complete ban on drilling within 50 miles of U.S. coasts, and a ban on drilling from 50 to 100 miles out unless the legislature of the adjacent state enacts legislation to specifically allow it.