Reid plan splits Dems

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has split the Democratic front opposed to drilling with a plan that would open new areas for exploration.

Reid’s proposal was meant to insulate Senate Democratic candidates from public anger over gas prices. Instead, it has created a divide with liberal colleagues and drawn fire from senior House Democrats.

A group of influential Senate and House Democrats has sided with environmental groups against Reid to call exploration in new areas unnecessary.

The legislation, drafted by Reid and Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.), would open nearly a billion new acres off the coast of Alaska to study for drilling. It would also dramatically accelerate oil leases in the western and central Gulf of Mexico.

“I am unalterably opposed to drilling,” said Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), a member of the Environment and Public Works Committee, who cited a massive oil spill that closed nearly 100 miles of the Mississippi River last week.

Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) urged Reid to be “very careful about drilling off the coast of Alaska.”

Reid could also face resistance from other Democrats who oppose drilling off Alaska’s shores.

Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), for example, has sponsored legislation to ban drilling in the North Aleutian Basin, an area that Republicans have already opened to oil leasing.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) told The Hill that lawmakers should focus on the National Petroleum Reserve on Alaska’s North Slope instead of offshore.

“There are tens of millions of barrels in the reserve. If you want oil in Alaska, drill there,” she said.

Some Democrats are irked that Senate leaders haven’t shown stronger resolve in the face of Republican attacks that attempt to blame opponents of offshore drilling for higher gas prices.

“Some people are just scared of the accusation that not leasing more acres has an impact on oil prices,” said Rep. Peter DeFazio, a senior Democrat from Oregon. “It just doesn’t.”

Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), a senior member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, echoed Pelosi.