Dems yielding to pressure on drilling
Oil company lobbyists expect to return from the August recess with a growing roster of Democratic allies, a result of the intense pressure lawmakers will face over the break from voters concerned about high gas prices. As gas prices fluctuate near $4 per gallon, polling shows that public support for expanding domestic oil exploration is at its highest point in a decade.
A slow trickle of Democrats — particularly those facing tough elections in economically struggling states — have recently expressed openness to traditionally Republican-backed initiatives that would open up protected areas to oil exploration.
Oil lobbyists welcome the shifting landscape.
“You’re starting to see the pressure on Congress really ratchet up,” said Dan Naatz, vice president of federal resources at the Independent Petroleum Association of America. “It’s a teachable moment.”
Although domestic exploration is often considered a partisan issue, Democrats from so-called oil-patch states such as Texas and Louisiana have long backed drilling as a way to increase state revenue.
But over the past few weeks, various proposals to expand exploration have gained new allies.
“New people are showing up that are not part of the original cast of characters,” said one oil company lobbyist. “And six weeks with constituents at the coffee shop might give some Democratic members the chance to rethink what they are doing right now.”
In 2006, Pennsylvania Democratic Rep. Tim Holden voted against oil exploration in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The following year, he voted to extend the moratorium on offshore drilling. In a sign of how much the landscape has changed, Holden recently told a local paper in his district that he wants to “drill everywhere.
I’m for offshore drilling. It needs to be part of a multipronged approach.”
The pro-drilling Democrats are joined by moderate Republicans, some of whom have toned down their previous opposition to domestic drilling. “We’re going to have to do some extra exploration and drilling in costal regions,” Connecticut Republican Rep. Christopher Shays said earlier this month in an interview with National Public Radio. “Times change, and politicians should respond to the realities that confront them.”