Lawmakers largely back Bush

WASHINGTON --- Georgia lawmakers largely support President Bush's call to lift a long-standing ban on offshore oil drilling, including off the state's coast.

All nine of Georgia's Republican congressmen, including both senators, back the proposal. Three of six Democrats also support it, along with Republican Gov. Sonny Perdue.

The new push for drilling is a response to increasingly urgent complaints from constituents about $4-a-gallon gasoline.

Many experts, including Energy Department forecasters, predict that offshore supplies would amount to a drop in the global bucket and would have little effect on gas prices. But drilling supporters say no one really knows how much oil is out there and that Congress can no longer ignore it.

"People all too often want to say ... 'not in my backyard.' But as a nation in a fuel crisis, we simply cannot afford to take any option off the table," said Rep. Phil Gingrey, R-Marietta.

President Bush on Monday lifted an executive ban that his father put in place in 1990 that prohibits offshore drilling in most parts of the country. He is pressing Congress to lift a similar legislative ban.

In a report last year, the Energy Department forecasting arm said it would take until 2030 before offshore production really got going. Even then, the report said, "because oil prices are determined on the international market ... any impact on average wellhead prices is expected to be insignificant."

Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Lithonia, said the benefits are "not worth the risk."

"Every week I advise constituents that there is no easy fix and we will not be returning to the era of cheap gas and oil," he said.

Rep. David Scott, D-Atlanta, said that though he might support limited new coastal drilling, Republicans are missing the point by focusing on oil.

"We must find substitutes for oil and natural gas so that crises such as this do not occur again," he said.

But Mr. Scott and Mr. Johnson are in the minority among Georgia lawmakers, along with Rep. John Lewis, D-Atlanta, who has long opposed new drilling.

The rest of the delegation backs offshore development, including Democrats John Barrow of Savannah, Sanford Bishop of Albany and Jim Marshall of Macon.

Republican Sens. Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson, who have been trying to broker a bipartisan energy compromise recently, said Congress can no longer ignore potential resources. Even if offshore production would play only a bit part in a broad energy portfolio, Mr. Isakson said, making it available would influence market forces that are driving up prices.

"Those who speculate on the future prices would understand that the United States has finally had enough," he said.

BURIED RESOURCE

Based on studies done 25 years ago, the Interior Department estimates that 18 billion barrels of recoverable oil likely will be found beneath coastal waters now off limits. The U.S. consumes about 8 billion barrels per year.

-- Associated Press