Is it too much to ask for an energy bill to actually have some energy in it? Apparently it is, judging by the latest offshore drilling measure being pushed by Congress.

Gasoline prices have dropped from last summer’s record levels, but they are still high enough to remain a big concern amongst voters heading into the November elections. And the public has recognized the single best idea for addressing them – making full use of the oil reserves here at home. Polling shows overwhelming support for opening up the 85 percent of America’s territorial waters – nearly all of the Atlantic and Pacific and eastern Gulf of Mexico – that inexplicably remain off limits to oil exploration and drilling.

However, the Democratic Congressional leadership, especially Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), has thus far opposed such measures. All summer, she refused to allow any Republican sponsored pro-drilling bills to even come to a vote. She is strongly anti-drilling but knew full well that enough Democrats would break ranks and support such a measure to put it over the top.

But her attempt to avoid the issue just isn’t cutting it with the public, and now she has been forced to offer up an offshore bill of her own.

But rather than a real bill, she has offered a sham. Imagine an orange bill that prohibits anything being grown in Florida and California. That’s about what this bill does for energy.
The proposal only opens up certain parts of the offshore, and carefully excludes the areas most likely to have oil. In particular, the bill categorically denies access everywhere within 50 miles of the shore – a buffer more than twice what is needed to prevent platforms from marring coastal views, but one containing most of the oil. “At best, this bill opens up 10 percent of the nation’s offshore energy potential,” says Dan Kish, Vice President of Policy with the Institute For Energy Research.

Worse yet, much of what little drilling would be allowed is contingent on coastal state’s approval of any activity off its shores. However, the bill provides zero revenue sharing with those states. In contrast, the royalties generated from onshore oil production on federally-controlled lands are split 50-50 with the state in which the land is located. No sharing of the wealth virtually guarantees state opposition to offshore drilling.

Perhaps worst of all, the bill actually strengthens the anti-drilling provisions in the areas that remain off-limits. Currently, most of those areas are subject to annual renewal of the restrictions by Congress, and those renewals have become politically difficult in an era of high oil and gasoline prices. Indeed, they are currently set to expire on October 1, unless Congress acts between now and then to extend them. But this bill would make these temporary restrictions permanent, taking a the issue off the table for good and making life much easier for politicians opposed to increased domestic oil supplies. The bill also puts most of offshore Alaska, which has more potential than any other state, out of play.

Don’t think an energy bill could be this phony? Consider the source. The bill is authored by Pelosi and like-minded politicians who are as stridently opposed to offshore drilling as the environmental extremists who have long championed the current anti-energy and anti-consumer policy. Only a few weeks ago, Pelosi justified her unyielding opposition by proclaiming “I’m trying to save the planet, I’m trying to save the planet,” and derided pending offshore bills as a “hoax.” At least she was being clear with the American people about where she stood on offshore drilling. That is until this bill was introduced.

While the offshore provisions are at best a small step in the right direction, the rest of the bill is a step in the wrong direction. For example, it includes increased taxes and fees on domestic oil companies that may discourage as much domestic drilling as the limited offshore measures would allow.

An energy bill that is nearly devoid of energy. An offshore bill that closes more waters than it opens. Clever stuff for anti-drilling politicians, if they can get away with it. In the meantime, the pain at the pump continues.

Fortunately, there are much better energy bills out there – ones that provide access to significant offshore oil supplies as well as incentives for states to be on board. Pelosi finally opened the door with her fake offshore bill, but Congress should not let it close until America gets a real one.