Democrats have decided to allow a quarter-century ban on drilling for oil off the Atlantic and Pacific coasts to expire next week, conceding defeat in a monthlong battle with the White House and Republicans set off by $4-a-gallon gasoline prices this summer.
Appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey, D-Wis., told reporters Tuesday that a provision continuing the moratorium will be dropped this year from a stopgap spending bill to keep the government running after Congress recesses for the election.
Republicans have made lifting the ban a key campaign after gasoline prices spiked this summer and public opinion turned in favor of more drilling.
President Bush lifted an executive ban on offshore drilling in July.
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“If true, this capitulation by Democrats following months of Republican pressure is a big victory for Americans struggling with record gasoline prices,” said House GOP leader John Boehner of Ohio.
Democrats had clung to the hope of only a partial repeal of the drilling moratorium, but the White House had promised a veto, Obey said.
Just last week, the House passed legislation to open waters off the Atlantic and Pacific coasts – including those off the Carolinas – to oil and gas drilling but only 50 or more miles out to sea and only if a state agrees to energy development off its shore.
Republicans called that effort a sham that would have left almost 90 percent of offshore reserves effectively off-limits.
The Interior Department estimates there are 18billion barrels of recoverable oil beneath coastal waters now off-limits.
Lifting the drilling ban gives considerable momentum to the underlying bill, which includes the Pentagon budget, $24 million in aid for flood and hurricane victims and $25 billion in loans for Detroit automakers in addition to keeping the government open past the Oct. 1 start of the 2009 budget year.