McCain Calls for End to Offshore Drilling Ban
By Michael D. Shear
Republican Sen. John McCain today called for an end to the federal ban on offshore oil drilling, a move that would let states decide whether oil rigs would sprout up along the Atlantic and Pacific coastlines.
The move is a dramatic break with the environmental groups McCain has been courting for months, but is designed to reassure voters angry about rising gas prices. McCain said he would push for new incentives to help convince state officials to allow the drilling once the 27-year-old federal ban is lifted.
"We must embark on a national mission to eliminate our dependence on foreign oil and reduce greenhouse gases through the development of alternative energy sources," McCain told reporters this morning. "And, as I said, exploration is a step toward the longer term goal."
Since securing the Republican nomination, McCain has been presenting himself as a friend of the environment by touting his belief in government action on global warming. But pushing for
drilling off the coasts is not likely to be popular with environmental activists who have consistently fought to keep the ban in place.
Congress created a moratorium on new drilling off the coast in 1981 and every president since then has extended it. A House panel last week defeated a Republican bill that would have lifted the moratorium.
McCain did not say how far offshore companies would have to be to drill for oil along the coastline, saying that is one of many things that would be part of a negotiation to lift the federal ban.
McCain's call is also sure to annoy two key Republican allies -- California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Florida Gov. Charlie Crist -- both of whom have said they are opposed to drilling off of their states' coastlines.
If the moratorium were lifted, pressure would quickly mount on both of the governors, who have so far been able to deflect calls for action to allow private oil companies to begin exploration for oil.
Environmental groups say an expansion of drilling is unnecessary because the oil companies have not yet maximized the exploration of current oil fields. Supporters of lifting the ban on drilling assert it would provide new opportunities to wean the country off of foreign oil.
It is not clear whether or how quickly oil drilling would begin once the federal ban were to be lifted. Several states, including Virginia, have debated the issue in the last several years, but those debates have often been overshadowed by the existence of the federal moratorium.
In Virginia, Republicans pushed to get Virginia on the record favoring drilling along the coast, but the legislative measure was vetoed by its Democratic governor, Timothy M. Kaine.
McCain's call for an end to the coastal oil drilling is somewhat at odds with his oft-stated view that drilling should remain off-limits in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, the Everglades, the
Grand Canyon and other sensitive areas.
Asked by reporters about those places, McCain said Monday that he still believes the refuge is a "pristine" area. But he said the coastline should be open to oil drilling. He did not describe the new incentives to encourage states to agree with him.
McCain is set to give a speech about energy to oil executives in Houston Tuesday, where he is expected to chide the industry for the huge profits they have made during a tough time for gasoline consumers.
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