WASHINGTON — High gas prices have reignited a familiar debate about drilling off California’s coast, with everyone playing their usual part and the outcome pretty much predictable.
Republicans urge energy independence. Democrats warn of coastal devastation. And while the House on Wednesday will approve an offshore drilling bill that includes part of California, the effort almost certainly will sputter out on the Senate side of Capitol Hill.
"The purpose of this bill is to send a message to the Republican base ... it’s a rallying cry," said Rep. Lois Capps, a Democrat from Santa Barbara, on Tuesday, but "it’s not going anywhere in the Senate."
Still, political purpose is being served. With California gasoline prices averaging over $4.20 a gallon, Republicans can mobilize public resentment and distinguish themselves from Democrats. The title of one of the bills being approved Wednesday clarifies the partisan point: it’s called the Reversing President Obama’s Offshore Moratorium Act.
The new bill expanding drilling off Southern California and other regions will join the vividly titled Restarting American Offshore Leasing Now Act, approved last week, and the Putting the Gulf of Mexico Back to Work Act, also set for approval this week.
In other words: Hear the theme.
"I think the majority is trying to score political points," Rep. Mike Thompson, D-Calif., said Tuesday, "but it’s not going to become law."
Democrats, in turn, are sending messages of their own to their environmentalist base. Capps charged that Republicans are "removing all of the protections" for the coast, while Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer declared Republicans "would jeopardize California’s ... coastal economy."
Statewide, it’s the Democrats who may find the more sympathetic audience. Last July 59 percent of Californians surveyed by the Public Policy Institute of California opposed additional drilling. Thirty-six percent favored more drilling.