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Bush Lifts Executive Ban On Off-Shore Drilling


U.S. President George Bush is stepping up pressure on Congress to open up off shore oil exploration. VOA White House Correspondent Paula Wolfson reports Mr. Bush has lifted an executive order banning offshore drilling and is urging lawmakers to complete the process by dropping a legislative prohibition.

President Bush is upping the stakes in his battle with Congress over domestic oil exploration.

In order for offshore drilling to resume, both Congress and the president have to remove existing prohibitions. One was imposed by the legislature. The other - an executive order - was signed by the president's father - President George H.W. Bush - in 1990.

Both were put in place at a time when the environmental concerns linked to off-shore drilling were high. President Bush says with new technology in place, and the need for domestic sources of energy rising, the ban is no longer warranted.

At first, he wanted Congress to take the lead. But his calls on the legislature to act got no results. And so Mr. Bush decided to go first, and lift the executive ban as a way to pressure lawmakers into action.

"With this action, the executive branch's restrictions on this exploration have been cleared away," said President Bush. "This means that the only thing standing between the American people and these vast oil resources is action from the U.S. Congress."

Mr. Bush stressed failure to act on the part of Congress is unacceptable, adding the American people deserve better as energy prices continue to rise.

"Now the ball is squarely in Congress' court," he said. "Democratic leaders can show that they have finally heard the frustrations of the American people by matching the action I've taken today, repealing the congressional ban, and passing legislation to facilitate responsible offshore exploration."

The president says in addition to opening up more offshore areas to drilling, Congress must give oil companies access to Alaska's Arctic Wildlife National Refuge over staunch opposition from environmentalists.

"The time for action is now," said Mr. Bush. "This is a difficult period for millions of American families. Every extra dollar they have to spend because of high gas prices is one dollar less they can use to put food on the table or send a child to school. And they are rightly angered by Congress' failure to enact common-sense solutions."

But Democratic Party leaders in the legislature say the president's plan for increased domestic exploration will help the oil companies far more than consumers.

Senate Majority Leader Henry Reid says more drilling leases for these companies will not solve the nation's energy woes. He says they already have drilling access to vast acreage that is going unexplored.

"Democrats are committed to both long term and short term solutions to our energy crisis," said Senator Reid. "We have to use our existing resources better and invest more in clean alternatives to oil."

The response to the president's actions from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was blunt. In a written statement, she said the White House drilling plan is a hoax and is designed to help big oil companies. Pelosi called on the president once again to release some of the oil in the nation's Strategic Petroleum Reserve - a step the Bush administration has repeatedly rejected.