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.
“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.