WASHINGTON — Democrats' stance against offshore drilling has shifted more, with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi signaling on Saturday her willingness to consider opening up more coastal areas to oil and gas exploration.
In her party's weekly radio address, Pelosi said opening portions of the Outer Continental Shelf for drilling would be a part of energy legislation that House Democrats intend to put forward in the coming weeks to address oil dependence and high gasoline prices.
Lawmakers will be able to "consider opening portions of the Outer Continental Shelf for drilling, with appropriate safeguards, and without taxpayer subsidies to Big Oil," said Pelosi, D-Calif.
Just weeks ago Pelosi seemed resolved to block any votes to allow offshore drilling, in part because Californians have opposed drilling off their coasts since an oil spill off Santa Barbara in 1969. New oil drilling is only allowed now in federal waters in the western Gulf of Mexico and off Alaska.
Pelosi's radio remarks were the latest to hint that the energy debate in Congress is still evolving, and that Democrats are budging on the issue.
Congress left for the August recess deadlocked over how to address $4-a-gallon gasoline. Democratic proposals to tap the nation's petroleum reserve, curb oil speculation and force oil companies to drill on already leased federal lands were blocked by Republicans trying to force votes on offshore drilling.
Yet any vote on drilling is likely to force the Republicans' hand, since it will likely be packaged with unpopular proposals to tap the petroleum reserve and recoup unpaid royalties from the late 1990s to pay for renewable energy projects.
"This comprehensive Democratic approach will ensure energy independence which is essential to our national security, will create millions of good paying jobs here at home in a new green economy, and will take major steps forward in addressing the global climate crisis," said Pelosi, who criticized Republicans' "drill only" plan.
Republican leaders called Pelosi's proposal a ruse.
She "is deliberately misrepresenting the facts about our plan in order to shift attention away from the Democrats' shameful record," said House Republican leader John Boehner of Ohio. "Her new effort appears to be just another flawed plan that will do little to lower gas prices." Boehner and more than 100 House Republicans refused to depart for the summer recess in protest of Democrats' refusal to have a vote on their proposals.
The pressure to expand offshore drilling intensified last month when President Bush lifted an executive prohibition on drilling for oil and gas on the Outer Continental Shelf. A congressional ban remains in place.
Polls have shown that voters have grown more supportive of more domestic oil production as fuel prices have climbed.