Pascrell: Why I Backed This Off-shore Drilling Bill
EVERY AUGUST, I expand my community outreach program deeper into the 21 Passaic and Essex county municipalities that make up the 8th Congressional District. With such a diverse constituency, I always return to Washington in September with a long and pretty incongruous list of each community's different priorities.
Not this year. As I traveled between city and suburb, from senior center to college campus, and throughout a mosaic of diverse ethnic enclaves, I was bombarded with the same questions focused primarily on one topic: Energy.
People want to know why the gas they bought in 2001 for $1.50 has more than doubled in cost in just seven years. At town hall meetings, my constituents demanded answers about oil company profits that quadrupled from $30 billion in 2002 to $123 billion in 2007.
I was reminded time and again that home heating costs have also doubled since 2002 and remain on the rise. With October approaching, the constituent service aides in my offices are already swamped with concerns from families and seniors over how they will heat their homes this winter.
Having fielded hundreds of questions, listened to countless suggestions and read through piles of mail, I returned to Washington with one primary goal in mind — to break through any partisan gridlock or gimmickry and present the president with an opportunity to steer America towards an energy independent future.
It's time to look beyond bumper sticker sloganeering like "Drill, baby, drill." It's time to combine our scientific and technological expertise with creative public policy ideas that will meet our local interests.
With millions of families struggling to remain in their homes, put their children through school and afford basic health care, the time for tough talk is over. Now it's time to make tough decisions.
Earlier this week, I supported a bipartisan comprehensive energy package that would help limit the impact our consumption habits have on the climate and rescue America from the grip of our own oil addiction.
The first thing our plan would do is close foreign tax loopholes available to large oil companies. It would mandate oil giants to begin paying royalties on flawed royalty-free leases that have cost American taxpayers about $15 billion. It would also repeal tax subsidies granted in 2004 to the biggest five oil companies.
Renewable energy sources
With the extra revenue, Congress would invest more than $5 billion in renewable energy sources to help reduce the unsustainable disparity between the amount of oil we produce and consume in the United States. Tax incentives for plug-in hybrid cars, solar- and wind-powered homes, buildings and appliances would spur manufacturing to create a new force of "green-collar" workers.
By studying clean coal opportunities and requiring utility companies to begin generating electricity from clean sources like wind, biomass, geothermal and solar power, we can lower energy prices by $18 billion over the next 11 years.
In order to win the favor of my colleagues who support expanded drilling, the package mandates that oil companies drill in Alaska's National Petroleum Reserve. It invests in the creation of a pipeline into the reserve that could create 10,000 new jobs and ban the export of Alaskan oil.
Also required would be a use-it-or-lose-it mandate that would ensure oil companies drill on the 68 million acres of federal land they already control.
As for coastal drilling, the package includes a responsible compromise that would expand leasing opportunities for oil companies. It opens land between 50 and 100 miles off the shore of coastal states that choose to participate.
With the president recently lifting a 30-year ban on offshore protections, land only three miles off our coast could become vulnerable by Sept. 30, 2008, if Congress did not attempt to strike a deal on drilling.
I am not excited with provisions in this bill to expand coastal drilling beyond the 311 million acres already available to oil companies. However, given the circumstance, I am far more comfortable establishing a 100-mile buffer from New Jersey's shoreline than I am with oil rigs setting up only three miles out to sea.
This may not be a perfect bill, but it's a good bill. After making every environmental, economic and security consideration, I firmly believe it will carve a productive path toward a more energy-independent America.
I expect the president to work with Congress the way he did when, together, we increased fuel standards for the first time in more than 30 years.
We have already made energy history together. Now we need to do it again.
Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr. is a Democrat representing New Jersey's 8th Congressional District.