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Commentary By Max Schulz

Nancy Pelosi's Drilling Smoke Screen

Several weeks ago House Speaker Nancy Pelosi denounced efforts to expand offshore oil exploration as a hoax that would do nothing to solve our country's energy woes. Though it was clear that firm majorities in both houses of Congress support opening the outer continental shelf and restricted portions of the Gulf of Mexico to drilling, Pelosi made clear she would not allow it to come to a vote. Why? She said she was "trying to save the planet." So she adjourned the House for a five-week vacation.

Now, amid the uproar about Congress' summer sabbatical while gasoline prices continue to hover near the $4-per-gallon mark, Pelosi is appearing to do an about-face. She revealed this week that she will allow a vote on drilling after all.

A victory for the forces that want to expand domestic energy production, right?

Not quite. There are plenty of reasons to think the Pelosi proposal is little more than a political smoke screen, designed to give fellow Democrats election year cover while failing to really open up the billions of barrels of oil presently off-limits.

The speaker's belief that opening the outer continental shelf is a death knell for Mother Earth ought to be enough to raise suspicions of her newfound position. Scratching the surface on her energy proposal reveals just how disingenuous the congressional leadership's position on energy issues has become.

Rather than permit a straight up-or-down vote on lifting the congressional ban on offshore drilling, Pelosi would only allow consideration of an exceedingly narrow drilling proposal. The public supports opening the OCS along both coasts, as well as in gulf waters near Florida. The Pelosi plan would limit drilling offshore to just a few mid-Atlantic states, exempting California's coast and certain areas in the gulf. An offshore drilling bill that exempts those energy-rich areas is hardly an offshore drilling bill at all.

Just as bad are the castor-oil provisions that Pelosi would make Congress swallow in order to permit her version of drilling. She wants Congress to pass a costly, one-size-fits-all national renewable portfolio standard. It would require that perhaps as much as 20% of the nation's electricity come from alternative energy technologies. Such a mandate is sure to raise energy prices. The reason wind and solar power presently contribute less than 1% of the nation's electricity is that they are not economical compared with coal and nuclear power.

Pelosi would load the so-called Big Oil companies with extra taxes, despite the fact that ExxonMobil and Chevron already pay billions of dollars into government coffers. Punishing the companies working to provide the energy we use by increasing their costs is hardly a means to bring down prices for consumers.

The speaker also floated the gimmick of releasing oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. But the reserve wasn't designed to address price fluctuations in a tight oil market. It was established as a safeguard in the event of a calamity or significant disruption of supply. Dribbling a small portion of that oil into the marketplace would have a negligible effect on prices and would do nothing to ensure America's long-term energy and economic security.

Finally, and ironically, Pelosi called for increasing the use of natural gas in our energy mix as a way to get away from oil. In the Democrats' weekly radio address, she called natural gas - which accounts for about 20% of our electricity generation - "abundant, clean and cheap." Natural gas is clean (about half as dirty as coal), but it can hardly be called abundant and cheap, thanks in large part to precisely the sort of anti-energy policies that Pelosi has championed.

Domestic production of natural gas has plateaued in recent years, leading to volatility and steep price hikes. We do have ample natural gas supplies in the United States, but they are locked away by the very bans on exploration offshore and on federal lands that Pelosi supports. One wonders where Pelosi thinks we will get those natural gas resources she deems so critical.

Congress' best bet to address the high price of gasoline is to unlock the billions of barrels of oil that are off-limits. The so-called drilling proposal offered up by Pelosi doesn't do that - not even close. Members of Congress of both parties would be wise to reject it.

This piece originally appeared in New York Daily News

This piece originally appeared in New York Daily News