From: Tom Doggett, Reuters
Published July 26, 2006 12:00 AM

U.S. House May Link Higher Gas Mileage, Oil Drilling

WASHINGTON — The House could accept a Senate proposal to boost vehicle mileage requirements as part of legislation to open more offshore areas to oil and natural gas drilling, a key House lawmaker said Tuesday.


The Senate will debate legislation this week to open a small area off the coast of Florida to drilling while preventing energy exploration within 125 miles of the state's coastline through 2022.


Some senators may try to add an amendment to the bill to nudge up the mileage requirement for U.S. vehicles by about one mile per gallon a year. It has been more than 20 years since Congress raised fuel efficiency standards, although the White House recently ordered automakers to boost mileage slightly in some vehicles.


Republican Rep. Richard Pombo, who chairs the House Resources Committee, said such higher fuel standards could be accepted in the House if that allowed Congress to pass compromise legislation including language from a House-passed drilling bill to also open areas on the West and East Coasts to energy exploration.


"I believe that kind of an amendment does not kill the (compromise drilling) bill in the House," Pombo told reporters, referring to the proposal to increase vehicle fuel efficiency.


Pombo is chief sponsor of the House bill that would automatically allow drilling beyond 100 miles from the shore and as close as 50 miles from the coastline unless a state disapproved.


Drilling now is allowed only off the coasts of Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas and parts of Alaska.


Pombo said he will negotiate with the Senate to work out an acceptable bill, but the final compromise legislation would have to open more areas to drilling beyond the eastern Gulf of Mexico as called for in the Senate legislation.


The Senate bill "the way it is right now" is too small in terms of new drilling opportunities for the House to accept, according to Pombo.


He also said a final bill should include the House's language to allow states to decide if they want drilling closer to their shores. "I think it ought to be up to the states," Pombo said. "I believe that is a fundamental (right) we ought to push for."


He said agreeing to an increase vehicle fuel standards could pick up the Senate and House votes necessary to pass a broader drilling bill similar to what the House wants.


"Obviously there are a number of members in the House who have never voted for (vehicle fuel efficiency) increases ... but tied to a bill like this may find it palatable," said Pombo, who refused to say whether he personally would support a boost in fuel standards.


Meanwhile, Senate Republican Leader Bill Frist said Tuesday he has enough votes to prevent a filibuster of the Senate's drilling bill.


He said "people are feeling the squeeze" of high energy prices and the Senate's drilling bill would address that problem, although he acknowledged it would not lower energy prices in the short-term.


It would take about five years for the government to lease new drilling areas and for production to begin.


Source: Reuters


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