Green groups bolster lobby against offshore drilling,Democrats struggle to pacify uneasy voters
The environmentalist movement forms a crucial piece of the Democrats' base, and the two remain close allies, but the gas-price crisis tests the relationship.
Environmental groups are scrambling to shore up opposition in the Democrat-led Congress to more offshore oil drilling, countering the push for added domestic production by President Bush and voters pinched by rising gasoline prices.
"There are plenty of us on the other side creating pressure, too," said Nick Berning, spokesman for Friends of the Earth, which is unleashing a campaign targeting select congressional districts to fend off calls for Congress to let the offshore drilling ban expire Sept. 30.
The 40-year-old advocacy group is increasing its lobbying on Capitol Hill and rallying activists nationwide with e-mail alerts, newsletters and phone calls warning against what they see as a "land grab by the oil industry" that will not lower gas prices, he said.
Greenpeace is spearheading a similar nationwide project to "foster leadership in Congress" to oppose offshore drilling and support environmentalist-backed plans such as raising automobile fuel-efficiency standards to 35 miles per gallon, said Meg Boyle, a climate policy specialist for the group.
Likely Democratic targets of environmentalists are Rep. Neil Abercrombie of Hawaii, who introduced legislation that would lift moratoriums on offshore drilling for natural gas, and Rep. Paul E. Kanjorski of Pennsylvania, who supports offshore drilling.
Democrats wavering on offshore drilling include Senate Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin of Illinois and Sens. Sherrod Brown of Ohio, Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas, Ben Nelson of Nebraska and Jon Tester of Montana.
The debate intensified Monday when Mr. Bush lifted the executive ban on offshore oil drilling and called on Congress to lift its drilling prohibition, saying American families are "rightly angered by Congress' failure to enact common-sense solutions."
"The only thing standing between the American people and these vast oil resources is action from the U.S. Congress," Mr. Bush said. "The time for action is now."
Republicans roundly applauded the announcement while Democrats called it a political stunt and accused the president of being allied with the oil industry.