Cheney Pushes for More Drilling

Vice President Cheney also implored Congress to pass a free trade agreement with Colombia.
Vice President Cheney also implored Congress to pass a free trade agreement with Colombia. (By Alex Wong -- Getty Images)

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By Zachary A. Goldfarb
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 12, 2008

Vice President Cheney yesterday called for a substantial increase in domestic drilling for oil and other natural resources, including in environmentally sensitive areas, saying that only increased production -- and not new technology -- will satisfy the nation's demand for energy.

"We are an economy that runs on petroleum. Some 20 million barrels of it a day. That can and will change over time, but it will be a very long time," said Cheney, former head of U.S. oil company Halliburton. "We'd be doing the whole country a favor if more of that oil were produced here at home."

Cheney chided lawmakers for blocking oil companies from drilling off the nation's coasts and in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. "On Capitol Hill, many have ignored the obvious and stood in the way of more domestic energy production," he said. "Oil is being drilled right now 60 miles off the coast of Florida. But we're not doing it. The Chinese are, in cooperation with the Cuban government. Even the communists have figured out that a good answer to high prices is more supply."

Cheney's comments before the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a powerful business lobby, came as record oil prices were hurting Americans at the pump and were threatening economic growth. Democrats failed in their effort this week to impose new taxes on the soaring profits of energy companies, which Cheney called "exactly the wrong way to address carbon issues."

Daniel J. Weiss, senior fellow and director of climate strategy at the left-leaning think tank Center for American Progress, disputed Cheney's prescription. "The only people who would benefit from more oil drilling are the oil companies," he said. Weiss said oil companies already hold thousands of leases to drill for oil in the Gulf of Mexico. "They have an interest in not dramatically expanding domestic supply because that will help keep prices high."

Chamber of Commerce President Tom Donahue said the association is kicking off a $15 million-a-year plan to persuade lawmakers to support more drilling, nuclear power and clean energy technologies. "We're going to push what we think is a reasonable policy that meets the challenge of global warming and $5 dollar-a-gallon gas," he said.

Cheney acknowledged the economy is facing "headwinds," including "turmoil in the credit markets" and "a major correction in housing" in addition to rising oil prices.

To keep the economy strong, he said, Congress must extend the tax cuts -- set to expire in 2010 -- that President Bush signed into law in his first term. "If the Bush tax cuts are allowed to expire, Americans in the lowest tax bracket will take the biggest percentage hit," Cheney said. "Ending the tax cuts . . . would be a staggering burden on the nation's households."

Leonard Burman, senior fellow at the nonpartisan Urban Institute, said Cheney's description of the impact of the tax cuts on the poor was a mathematical trick. He said the impact of the cuts is minimal because low-income people already pay such a small amount in taxes, while higher income people retain a much larger share of their income with the tax cuts in place. "They're basically spinning," Burman said.

Cheney also implored Congress to pass a free trade agreement with Colombia that many Democrats oppose, including presumptive nominee Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.). The Democrats charge that pacts such as the Columbian and North American Free Trade Agreement send U.S. jobs overseas.

"In a time when even NAFTA is being called into doubt . . . candidates can draw cheers by denouncing trade deals with our next-door neighbors," Cheney said. "Protectionism is the refuge of a tired, fearful nation."


© 2008 The Washington Post Company

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