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Bush Calls for End to Ban on Offshore Oil Drilling

U.S. President George Bush wants Congress to end a federal ban on offshore oil drilling. VOA White House Correspondent Scott Stearns reports, opposition Democrats say that would not lower gas prices.

With Americans paying record-high gasoline prices, President Bush says it is time for lawmakers to lift a 27-year ban on offshore drilling.

"Congress must face a hard reality. Unless members are willing to accept gas prices at today's painful levels or even higher, our nation must produce more oil," he said. "And we must start now."

Over time, the president says America's outer-continental shelf could produce 18 billion barrels of oil, which is enough to meet current domestic oil production for about 10 years.

Offshore drilling is currently blocked by both legislative and administrative prohibitions. Mr. Bush says he wants Congress to act first in ending its moratorium. Then he says he will lift the executive ban.

Offshore drilling is one of four actions the president wants lawmakers to take to increase U.S. energy production.

Speaking to reporters in the White House Rose Garden, Mr. Bush also called for drilling in an Alaskan wildlife refugee, expanding refinery capacity, and exploiting oil shale, which is a kind of rock that produces oil when exposed to heat.

Record high gas prices are a big issue in this year's presidential election. Mr. Bush spoke one day after his party's presumptive nominee called for lifting the ban on offshore drilling. The opposition party's likely candidate opposes the move.

President Bush again sought to politicize the issue, saying Americans are paying the price at the pump due to obstruction by Democrats in Congress.

"I know the Democratic leaders have opposed some of these policies in the past. Now that their opposition has helped drive gas prices to record levels, I ask them to reconsider their positions," he added. "If Congressional leaders leave for their Fourth of July recess without taking action, they will need to explain why four-dollar-a-gallon gasoline is not enough incentive for them to act."

West Virginia Democrat Nick Rahall chairs the House Natural Resources Committee. He says the president is wrong to link offshore drilling with lower gas prices.

"Bottom line, you can not drill yourself to lower gas prices," he noted. "The amount of lands that are open, the amount of permits that have been issued have all increased over recent years yet so has the price of gas. There is no correlation between opening up more pristine areas and lowering the price of gas - no correlation whatsoever."

House Democratic Caucus Chairman Rahm Emmanuel says oil companies already hold leases to 68 million acres of federal land that they are not exploring.

"We will not scare the American people into doing something that they should not do at this point, given the oil industry holds leases today to 14 years worth of energy supply that would give us the ability to wean off of foreign dependence," he said.

Emmanuel and Rahall have introduced legislation to force oil companies to use land already under lease.