House GOP Leaders Still Looking for an OCS Deal

House Republican leaders have not yet decided whether they will accept a limited Senate-passed offshore oil and gas drilling measure before the new Congress begins, a member of the leadership team said yesterday.

The House Republican leadership team is under pressure to acquiesce, before the Democrats take over Congress, to Senate legislation that would expand Gulf of Mexico oil and gas leasing by 8.3 million acres. A competing House-passed bill goes much further, relaxing leasing bans that cover most coastal areas, but that measure is now considered a nonstarter.

"We are trying to get something, but I don't know if we can go that far," said Rep. Deborah Pryce (R-Ohio), the chair of the House Republican Conference, when asked about agreeing to the Senate measure. Critics of the Senate bill say it does too little to expand domestic production and want to broaden it to include other areas.

Sen. Pete Domenici (R-N.M.), the chair of the Senate Energy Committee, today said efforts continue to gain House agreement with the Senate plan. Domenici and other Senate supporters of the plan say a broader bill cannot win enough support for passage in their chamber.

He has said House members who want expanded offshore production should see the Senate plan as an incremental but important step toward the goal of changing drilling policy. "Many [senators] are working on House people" to convince them "that this is their one time to get a break and establish precedent," Domenici told reporters today.

While the House leadership has been noncommittal publicly, Rep. Bobby Jindal (R-La.) said this week the leadership has assured him that an "offshore royalty bill will be voted upon before the end of this calendar year."

Both the House and Senate offshore drilling bills would share gulf production royalties with Louisiana and other Gulf Coast states, though the House bill provides the states more money. "Congress must act in the coming weeks to pass an offshore energy bill as delaying action until the next Congress would be devastating to our efforts," Jindal said in a prepared statement Monday.

"We cannot let the perfect be the enemy of the good and must pass some type of offshore royalty legislation by the end of this year," he said.

Senior reporter Mary O'Driscoll contributed to this story.

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