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Obama Opens the Door to Offshore Drilling

By Jonathan Weisman
ORLANDO, Fla. -- Sen. Barack Obama suggested he could accept an expansion of offshore oil drilling today if it is in a broader package of energy measures that would free the logjam on energy bills in Congress.

"My interest is in making sure we've got the kind of comprehensive energy policy that can bring down gas prices," Obama said in an interview with The Palm Beach Post.

"If, in order to get that passed, we have to compromise in terms of a careful, well thought-out drilling strategy that was carefully circumscribed to avoid significant environmental damage -- I don't want to be so rigid that we can't get something done."

Republicans have consistently said they could craft legislation that would expand oil exploration on the outer continental shelf without jeopardizing delicate shoreline habitats. But Democratic leaders in Congress have been ardently opposed. Environmental groups, a key constituency, have been unyielding in their opposition.

Instead, Democrats crafted a rhetorical answer to the GOP's drilling campaign, calling on the oil companies to begin oil drilling on the millions of acres both on and offshore that have already been leased to them but remain untapped. Obama has taken up that line as part of his standard stump speech.

But with rising gasoline prices, polls indicate the voters are increasingly with the Republicans, even here in Florida, where opposition to offshore drilling has always been strong. McCain switched his own position on the issue, and recently brought along with him Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, who had been opposed.

Now Obama opened the door to his own shift.

"The Republicans and the oil companies have been really beating the drums on drilling," Obama said in the Post interview. "And so we don't want gridlock. We want to get something done."

Obama, through his Senate office, issued a written statement welcoming a proposal sent to Senate leaders Friday by 10 senators -- five from each party -- that would lift drilling bans in the eastern Gulf of Mexico within 50 miles of Florida's beaches and in the South Atlantic off Virginia, the Carolinas and Georgia, but only if a state agrees to the oil and gas development along its coast. The states would share in revenues from oil and gas development.
Drilling bans along the Pacific coast and the Northeast would remain in place under this compromise.

The compromise "would repeal tax breaks for oil companies so that we can invest billions in fuel-efficient cars, help our automakers re-tool, and make a genuine commitment to renewable sources of energy like wind power, solar power, and the next generation of clean, affordable biofuels," Obama noted.

By Web Politics Editor  |  August 1, 2008; 7:34 PM ET
Categories:  B_Blog , Barack Obama , On the Issues  
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