By Jonathan Weisman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, August 2, 2008
ORLANDO, Aug. 1 -- Sen. Barack Obama suggested on Friday that he could accept an expansion of offshore oil drilling as long as it was part of a broader package of measures that would free the logjam of 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, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, 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 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 voters increasingly side with the Republicans, even here in Florida, where opposition to offshore drilling has always been strong. McCain switched his own position on the issue earlier this year, as did Florida Gov. Charlie Crist (R), who had also been opposed.
"It's clear that members of both parties are following John McCain's leadership toward an 'all of the above' approach on energy that includes nuclear, alternative energy, and off shore drilling," McCain's campaign said in a statement. "We hope Barack Obama will realize that his ongoing opposition to John McCain's realistic energy solutions and additional off shore drilling is wrong."
Obama said in the Palm Beach Post interview that "the Republicans and the oil companies have been really beating the drums on drilling. 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 Atlantic off Virginia, the Carolinas and Georgia, but only if the states agree to oil and gas development along their coasts. The states would share in revenue from the development.
Drilling bans along the Pacific coast and the Northeast would remain in place under the 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 said.