August 21, 2008

Rehberg Pushes for Oil Exploration

By Dennison, Mike

HELENA - Led off by Montana Rep. Denny Rehberg, a quartet of Republicans this week used a nationally broadcast congressional debate to push an energy bill that includes drilling for more oil in Alaska and domestic offshore sites. "We can do it all: traditional fossil fuels, oil, gas, coal, renewable energy, conservation and efficiency," Rehberg said at the Monday debate in New Orleans. "Americans are demanding solutions."

Yet their Democratic counterparts said Republicans are the ones standing in the way of a progressive energy policy by insisting any energy bill include lifting bans on oil exploration in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and sensitive offshore sites.

"When push comes to shove, the Republicans have not stepped up to the plate to reverse our dependence on foreign oil," said Rep. Jay Inslee, D-Wash. "It has been:

Feed the meter, feed the corporations. That has been their desire."

The debate, sponsored by the Congressional Institute, showcased the chasm between congressional Democrats and Republicans on energy policy. The institute is a nonprofit group that offers seminars and other events, primarily for Republican lawmakers.

Republicans at Monday's debate said domestic oil, gas and coal production should be increased and encouraged, and that it will help reduce record-high gasoline and other fossil-fuel prices.

The GOP leadership last week introduced a bill that lifts drilling bans in sensitive areas and also includes incentives for nuclear power, new oil-refinery construction, conservation and alternative energy like wind and solar.

The House Democratic majority leadership has blocked votes' on opening up ANWR and other off-limits domestic areas to drilling, and said the answer is a full-fledged push toward alternative, renewable energy.

They also want President Bush to release oil from the national Strategic Petroleum Reserve and agree to attempts to limit financial speculation on oil futures.

While Republicans say they want "all of the above," they generally have been voting against Democrats' energy-conservation and renewable-energy proposals, Inslee said. "When it comes to efficiency and conservation, they are for none of the above."

The New Orleans debate is the third in a series of debates on national issues held at sites across the country. It featured four Republicans facing off against four Democrats.

In addition to Rehberg, the Republicans on the panel were Zach Wamp of Tennessee, Michele Bachmann of Minnesota and Fred Upton of Michigan.

The Democrats were Inslee. Earl Blumenauer of Oregon, Hilda Solis of California and Bart Stupak of Michigan.

During the 90-minute debate, neither side gave any indication of moderating its position, instead using the event to promote their respective proposals and attack their political opponents.

Inslee said Democrats apparently will have to wait for Barack Obama to become president before they can advance a responsible energy plan.

Rehberg said Tuesday that both sides should be able to agree that Americans need lower gasoline prices.

"I emphasized during the debate that Congress should not leave for the August break until we can pass real energy legislation," he said in a statement. "I continue to believe that. We must pass a comprehensive American energy plan and put aside partisan differences to do so."

The debate often focused on the status of tax credits for renewable-energy production, such as wind power. The credits are set to expire and both sides said they support extending them.

Yet Senate Republicans blocked an extension bill last December, because it financed the extra time by canceling $18 billion in tax credits for the oil industry.

Rehberg defended the industry, saying its tax credits are "incentives" for the oil industry to drill in difficult areas. He also said the industry has to pay for high oil prices as well, increasing its production costs.

"What we're suggesting is don't stand in the way of the American public from having cheap gasoline," Rehberg said. "And how do you have cheap gasoline? By weaning yourself away from foreign dependency."

Democrats said the United States consumes 25 percent of the world's petroleum, while having only 3 percent of its reserves, so increased drilling isn't going to solve the problem of rising prices.

Conservation and renewable-energy development are the best answers, Inslee said. "If we use all of our oil, we will cook this planet. We need a new source of energy."

Stupak also repeated a longstanding Democratic charge that the oil industry is not exploring in federal areas already leasing for exploration, and isn't investing its money in new production.

Rehberg responded by saying the industry is trying its best to explore, but faces delays in the granting of federal drilling permits and legal challenges by environmental groups.

Copyright The Missoulian Jul 30, 2008

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