The News Journal - Biden Rips Bush on Energy
Reversal of offshore drilling ban puts oil interests first, senator says
By JEFF MONTGOMERY
President Bush on Monday lifted an executive ban on offshore drilling that has stood since his father was president.
But the move, by itself, will do nothing unless Congress acts as well.
Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., promptly condemned the move as an eleventh-hour "rape" of ocean resources by oil interests, and said the nation needs a massive drive to develop renewable energy sources.
Biden issued the call during a dune-top briefing at Cape Henlopen State Park, just north of an area mapped out by Bluewater Wind LLC for one of the nation's first offshore wind farms.
Hours earlier, the White House had announced it would lift a presidential block on offshore drilling, saying it would eventually produce billions of barrels of oil and take pressure off oil prices.
"I think this is a last-ditch effort to go out and rape the offshore continental shelf, so that they own it and are able to use it as leverage in the future, because they know if they don't get it in the last couple of months of this administration, they're not going to get it," Biden said.
Biden spoke to a small, overwhelmingly supportive crowd of local officials, park visitors and environmental group members atop the Great Dune Overlook at Cape Henlopen, not far from the environmental center that bears his name. The dune rises over a huge tract of fragile coast that Biden helped shepherd from Defense Department ownership to state control.
Several of Biden's comments, especially those touching on Bluewater's recent success in winning an agreement to supply Delmarva Power, drew cheers from onlookers. The wind company recently signed a contract to provide Delmarva with up to 200 megawatts of electricity, and hopes to sign up other customers for a potential 600-megawatt, 150-turbine offshore complex.
There are two prohibitions on offshore drilling, one imposed by Congress and another by executive order signed by the first President Bush in 1990. The current president, trying to ease market tensions and boost supply, called last month for Congress to lift its prohibition before he did so himself.
Touting alternative energy
Biden, mentioned as a possible vice presidential choice for Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama, outlined a series of investments and policy steps he said could drastically reduce America's dependence on foreign oil. Those same efforts, he said, could slash emissions of fossil fuel pollutants blamed for rising global temperatures and climate change -- problems that have created new sources of world friction and new threats to world peace.
"I'm proposing a five-year Apollo project for energy and climate change that would make a substantial, $50 billion investment in alternative energy and energy efficiency," Biden said.
Money for the project could come from elimination of more than $2 billion in tax breaks now available to oil producers despite continuing, massive profits, Biden said.
Investments should include federal subsidies for transmission lines to carry electrical power from new clean wind farms like Bluewater's, Biden said. National support also is needed for solar and geothermal energy, biofuels and new battery technologies.
The country also needs to continue research into safe management of spent nuclear fuel as well as new technologies to safely capture and store carbon dioxide from conventional coal and oil plants now increasingly used by the growing economies of China and India.
"We should become the generators of this new technology" to curb emissions globally, Biden said, noting that renewable energy and clean energy industries can provide millions of jobs to Americans.
The nation should commit to 40-mile-per-gallon vehicle averages nationwide by 2017 as one strategy to curb emissions and reduce reliance on imported oil, Biden said. He added that the country needs to set a nationwide, 20 percent minimum for the use of renewables in supplying the country's electricity, matching a standard already in place for Delaware by the year 2019.
Congressional Democrats, joined by some GOP lawmakers from coastal states, have opposed lifting the prohibition that has barred energy companies from waters along both the East and West coasts and in the eastern Gulf of Mexico. A succession of presidents, from Bush's father -- George H.W. Bush -- to Bill Clinton, have sided against drilling in these waters, as has Congress each year for 27 years. Their goal has been to protect beaches and coastal states' tourism economies.
"Once again, the oilman in the White House is echoing the demands of Big Oil," said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. "The Bush plan is a hoax. It will neither reduce gas prices nor increase energy independence. It just gives millions more acres to the same companies that are sitting on nearly 68 million acres of public lands and coastal areas."
"This proposal is something you'd expect from an oil company CEO, not the president of the United States," said Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., chairwoman of the Senate Environment Committee. "The president is taking special-interest government to a new level and threatening our thriving coastal economy."
Chamber of Commerce cheers
Environmental groups, too, blasted Bush's move.
"President Bush has once again ignored the wise precedent set by his father and taken reckless action that has neither hope of reducing gas prices nor concern for long-term consequences," said Gene Karpinski, president of The League of Conservation Voters.
But the U.S. Chamber of Commerce applauded Bush's decision, and reported that it will join with a coalition of groups Wednesday to announce a series of energy proposals.
"With gas now over $4 a gallon, Congress and the administration should be doing everything in its power to ... produce energy," said Bruce Josten, U.S. Chamber executive vice president for Government Affairs.
Asked if Bush's action alone will lead to more oil drilling, White House press secretary Dana Perino said, "In terms of allowing more exploration to go forward? No, it does not."
The president, in his final months in office, has turned to increased oil exploration among other options amid record gas prices. None would have immediate impact on prices at the pump, according to White House officials, who say there is no quick fix. But acting now would help, they say.
Neither Congress nor the president is likely to force any big changes in energy policies during the final months of the Bush administration, Biden acknowledged.
"The price of nothing happening is better than the price of something happening," Biden said, noting his opposition to the offshore leasing change proposed by Bush. "What we can do is prevent things from getting a lot worse."
The White House has conceded that additional leases are unlikely to have any short-term impact, because of the time needed to find and develop new wellfields.
Biden said energy companies already have more than 7,100 offshore leases in hand that could give them access to nearly 80 percent of the known offshore oil reserves. Even if developed, he added, other major oil-producing nations would simply cut production to keep the small amount of new American supplies from affecting prices.