'Gang of 10' leads energy way
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., refused to allow congressional votes on new offshore drilling before Congress went on recess Friday. But they can't keep resisting rising public demand for such action for-ever. And Friday's announcement by a bipartisan 'Gang of 10' senators - five Republicans, five Democrats - who back a multi-faceted energy proposal that includes such drilling is evidence that the House and Senate leadership are losing their grip on this issue.
Indeed, Rep. Pelosi and Sen. Reid would not have blocked drilling votes in their chambers if they didn't already know that a significant number of Democrats oppose them on the issue. And the plan revealed Friday by the Gang of 10, including South Carolina's Lindsey Graham, strikes a compromise between both sides of the energy debate.
That rest of the 'gang': Democrats Kent Conrad (North Dakota), Blanche Lincoln (Arkansas), Mark Pryor (Arkansas), Mary Landrieu (Louisiana), Ben Nelson (Nebraska); Republicans Saxby Chambliss (Georgia), Johnny Isakson (Georgia), John Thune (South Dakota), Bob Corker (Tennessee).
Their proposal would allow more drilling off the coasts of states, from Virginia around Florida and all the way to the Gulf Coast, that approve it. It would advance nuclear power by recycling spent nuclear fuel. It would encourage energy conservation through financial incentives, including tax breaks. And it would foster more aggressive development of new alternative energy sources, in part by reasonably requiring oil companies to put much more of their record profits into that effort.
Sen. Graham, in a conference call Friday, said of the plan: 'It's not perfect, but it's a beginning of the end of the gridlock on this issue.'
He called upon President Bush to demand that Congress return to Washington for a special session to pass such legislation. Sen. Graham's reasoning: 'This is a national-security crisis, this is an economic crisis.'
It also could become a political crisis for Democrats if their congressional leadership persists in obstructing the voters' will. Energy could even become the issue that saves the GOP from a ballot-box debacle.
However, far beyond the energy issue's implications on this year's elections, the challenges it presents will extend for decades - and will worsen if we don't responsibly utilize all of our advantages.
There is no single solution to our energy problems. The best course toward easing our dependence on foreign oil lies on three tracks: produce more oil of our own, develop alternative energy sources, and strengthen conservation. Unfortunately, many politicians still mistakenly portray such initiatives as being in conflict.
But the Gang of 10 clearly doesn't share that view. Congress should follow its bipartisan lead and craft effective, wide-ranging, energy solutions. It's for certain Congress can't do so by taking summer vacation.