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Bush Urges Democrats to Not Block Energy Proposal

In his weekly radio address, U.S. President George Bush once again urged Congress to lift its long-standing ban on offshore oil-and-gas drilling to increase U.S. energy production. Mr. Bush said Democrats in Congress are blocking his proposals, and, as a result, are partly to blame for high gasoline costs. VOA's Mary Motta has this report from Washington.

U.S. President George Bush focused on the price of gas in making his case for offshore drilling.

"The fundamental problem behind high gas prices is that the supply of oil has not kept up with the rising demand across the world. One obvious solution is for America to increase our domestic oil production," he said.

Earlier this week, President Bush called on the U.S. Congress to lift a 27-year-old moratorium on offshore oil-and-gas drilling, putting himself in the middle of an election-year debate over energy policy.

By urging lawmakers to lift the federal ban and induce coastal states to open up more areas of the outer continental shelf to exploration, Mr. Bush reinforced a similar proposal by Senator John McCain, the presumptive Republican presidential candidate. Senator Barack Obama, the Democratic presidential candidate, opposes it.

In his radio address Saturday, Mr. Bush stepped up his political rhetoric. Because rising energy costs have become a top issue for voters, Mr. Bush and his fellow Republicans are seeking to portray Democrats as standing in the way of measures to help lower gasoline prices.

"I know Democratic leaders have opposed some of these policies in the past," he added. "Now that their opposition has helped drive gas prices to record levels, I ask them to reconsider their positions. If congressional leaders leave for the Fourth of July recess without taking action, they will need to explain why $4-a-gallon gasoline is not enough incentive for them to act."

Democratic leaders signaled they would not budge.

Representative Nick Rahall, a Democrat from West Virginia, said Mr. Bush's proposal will not bring the type of relief Americans need at the gas pump. He says oil companies are sitting on 68 million acres of federal lands they have already leased that have the capacity to nearly double U.S. oil and gas production and cut oil imports by one-third.

"Big oil is stockpiling these leases as they enjoy record profits, while Americans feel the pain at the pump," he noted. "Simply put, we are telling big oil to use or lose it."

Mr. Bush's move carries political risk, because offshore exploration has faced opposition in Florida, which will be a battleground in the presidential campaign. Critics of the plan fear it would damage Florida's beaches and drive away tourists.

Mr. Bush's plan also calls for allowing exploration and drilling in a portion of the 19 million-acre Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska and leasing federal lands to mine and extract oil from shale in the Green River Basin of Colorado, Wyoming and Utah.