WASHINGTON — A Pennsylvania congressman renewed his push Wednesday to open the nation's coastline to offshore drilling. This time, though, he's focusing on natural gas and pitching his plan as a green way to find energy and save American jobs.
"It's the lifeblood of manufacturing," Republican Rep. John Peterson said at a news conference. "For us to not be producing our own natural gas is like committing suicide economically."
Peterson sweetened the deal by offering tens of billions of dollars in royalties to restore such environmental treasures as the Chesapeake Bay, the San Francisco Bay, the Everglades and the Great Lakes. His legislation also includes billions for low-income heating assistance and research into renewable energy.
Peterson has long argued that natural-gas exploration in the Outer Continental Shelf offers a safe way to produce domestic energy without risk to the environment. But though he said Wednesday that he thought he was making progress, he faces long odds.
He's worked closely with Rep. Neil Abercrombie, a Hawaii Democrat, on the legislation, which they're calling the National Environment and Energy Development Act, or the NEED Act.
"Natural gas is the bridge to the alternative-energy future," Abercrombie said. "You can't get there from here without natural gas."
Natural gas is used widely in manufacturing and to heat homes, and is an ingredient in fertilizer. It helps farmers produce corn and then ethanol, Peterson said, and is crucial to hydrogen-powered vehicles.
The bill announced Wednesday would lift moratoriums on offshore drilling for natural gas and offer the entire coastline for exploration, with a tiered process that allows for state-by-state buy-ins or opt-outs, depending on how close the rigs would be to shore.
The Senate last week rejected an amendment to its energy package that would narrowly open drilling off Virginia for natural gas. An amendment by Peterson in a House of Representatives committee earlier this year failed as well.
"I'm getting disappointed, almost angry, that Congress can't figure this out," Peterson said.
Environmental groups have long opposed offshore drilling, arguing that natural gas — widely considered less threatening than oil — would lead to a slippery slope of oil drilling as well.
"That's a lie," Peterson said.
Some states, such as Virginia, want drilling off their shores. Others, such as North Carolina and Florida, have long opposed it.
At a hundred miles out, though, states wouldn't have any choice but to allow drilling under the NEED Act.
"You're a hundred miles out," Peterson said. "The state will never know what's going on."
His legislation comes as natural-gas prices are high and, manufacturers say, are forcing more industries to close or move overseas.
Though Pennsylvania has no coastline, Peterson said his district was affected because of the rising costs of heating homes with natural gas and the extensive brick and clay industries in north-central Pennsylvania.
Jack Gerard, the president of the American Chemistry Council, said companies were paying triple the amount for natural gas that they were five years ago, destroying 2.8 million to 3 million jobs.
"America's natural-gas crisis is unsolved," Gerard said. "Any energy policy considered in Congress without addressing natural gas is shortsighted."
Peterson and Abercrombie were joined Wednesday by a bipartisan group of representatives: Republicans Thelma Drake of Virginia and Devin Nunes of California, and Democrats Chet Edwards of Texas and Charlie Melancon of Louisiana.
THE DRILLING ZONES
The legislation introduced by Reps. John Peterson, R-Pa., and Neil Abercrombie, D-Hawaii, includes zones for natural-gas exploration on the Outer Continental Shelf. It has a tier system for natural-gas companies to lease space from the federal government for drilling:
The legislation includes details on how royalty money paid to the federal government would be redistributed, an important deal-maker to encourage buy-in from members of Congress. Bill sponsor Peterson estimates $400 billion in royalties over the first decade of production, which wouldn't begin until several years after a bill passes.