Porter, GOP push drilling

WASHINGTON -- Carrying out Republican strategy, Rep. Jon Porter of Nevada filed a petition in Congress on Wednesday seeking to force the House to vote on offshore oil drilling.

Porter's action was part of a GOP effort to ratchet up pressure on Democratic leaders to allow votes on offshore drilling that they staunchly have resisted.

Failing that, Republicans are moving to take advantage of what they see as a powerful campaign issue during an upcoming summer break.

A partisan battle that has roared on Capitol Hill for more than a week has Congress at a virtual standstill on responding to $4-a-gallon gasoline, days before lawmakers are scheduled to leave Washington this weekend for a five-week recess.

Stalemate was the order of the day, with only fading hopes for an 11th-hour deal.

Republicans blocked the Senate from considering a bill to protect journalists from having to reveal their sources. They argued the Senate should be acting instead on bills to promote more oil and gas production.

For the same reason, Republicans also prevented debate on a bill to renew dozens of expiring tax breaks, including write-offs for renewable energy production, state and local sales taxes, and business research and development.

The House was expected to take up a measure to counter oil market speculation, but under procedures that prevent Republicans from trying to attach an oil drilling measure.

Both parties were preparing their summertime talking points.

Democrats argue that expanded offshore oil drilling is not the answer to solve the spike in gasoline prices, while it could increase the risk of spills and other environmental problems.

It would be at least several years before new supplies could be brought to market, they say, with no guarantee that prices would drop.

Democrats led by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada have promoted a strategy to withdraw oil from the government's petroleum stockpile to push down prices.

They also have proposed to accelerate exploration on federal lands already approved for drilling, and to crack down on oil price speculators whose futures trading they say has contributed between 20 percent and 50 percent to recent oil price hikes.

"The impact of any new drilling will be insignificant, promising savings of only pennies per gallon many years down the road," Pelosi said. "That hoax is unworthy of the serious debate we must have to relieve the pain of consumers at the pump and to promote energy independence."

House Republicans are scheduled to meet today to discuss energy strategy, including the paperwork that Porter filed with the approval of party leaders.

The Nevadan filed a "discharge petition" in support of House Resolution 6108, a bill that would give states the ability to allow drilling off their coasts.

The bill also would open areas in deeper waters beyond 100 miles offshore to federal leasing.

The Deep Ocean Energy Resources Act, introduced on May 21 by Rep. Sue Myrick, R-N.C., has 101 cosponsors, all Republicans.

Discharge petitions are a tool to force action on bills that are buried in committee.

Under House rules, if 218 lawmakers sign the petition, it is "discharged" from committee and can be brought to the House floor for votes.

The Myrick bill was referred to three House committees, where there has been no action as Pelosi has made it clear she opposes opening new areas to oil drilling.

While they are often used to generate publicity for stalled bills, discharge petitions rarely succeed.

Between 1931 and 2003, 563 discharge petitions were filed and only 47 gathered the required signatures, according to a 2003 study by the Congressional Research Service.

Porter said offshore oil drilling needs to be a key component of the nation's plans to reduce reliance on foreign oil, along with conservation and development of solar and other renewable sources.

He acknowledged the purpose of the discharge petition was to pressure Democrats, including state Sen. Dina Titus, his opponent in what is one of the most closely watched House races in the nation.

"The discharge petition is to call on both Democrats and Republicans to stand tall and tell the world (drilling) is one piece of helping to solve the problem" of high oil prices, Porter said.

"It is also time for my opponent to call on Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats to do the same thing," Porter said. "This legislation is exactly what (Titus) says she is supporting. The question is how many Democrats can my opponent get" to embrace more offshore drilling.

Las Vegas professor Mark Peplowski said it appeared Porter was trying to regain the offensive after Titus this week unveiled her energy policy that includes support for more offshore oil exploration, a stance that sets her apart from Pelosi.

"It helps Porter get PR for his campaign back home," said Peplowski, a political science professor at the College of Southern Nevada.

"He is saying that he is already working to make (drilling) happen, and if Dina wants to help she can call Nancy Pelosi and help him make it happen."

Nevada Democrats said it was "quite the coincidence in timing" for Porter to take action two days after Titus announced her energy plan that also would release oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve and repeal "unnecessary tax breaks" to oil companies.

"Jon Porter's only reaction to Dina's leadership on energy is to say, 'Drill, drill, drill,' " said Travis Brock, executive director of the Nevada Democratic Party.

"Porter knows he's in trouble and had to do something to react to Dina's energy plan," Brock said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. Contact Stephens Washington Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault at stetreault@stephensmedia.com or 202-783-1760.