WASHINGTON — California's Democratic leaders accused President Bush of cozying up to oil interests and threatening the state's coastline Monday by lifting the presidential moratorium on offshore drilling.
The 18-year-old executive order, put in place by Bush's father, shifts attention to the Democratic-controlled Congress, which would have to act for drilling to begin.
"Once again, the oilman in the White House is echoing the demands of Big Oil," said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco. "The Bush plan is a hoax. It will neither reduce gas prices nor increase energy independence. It just gives millions more acres to the same companies that are sitting on nearly 68 million acres of public lands and coastal areas."
Sen. Barbara Boxer, who heads the Senate's environmental committee, said Bush was "taking special-interest government to a new level" and jeopardizing California's coastal economy, which she said is worth $70 billion and produces almost 2 million jobs.
"President Bush is giving another gift to the oil companies that will do not one thing to lower gas prices for the American people," Boxer said. "This proposal is something you'd expect from an oil company CEO, not the President of the United States."
And Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein said the president was "deluding the American public" into believing that new offshore drilling is a quick fix to $4 per gallon gasoline.
"Nothing could be further from the truth," she said. "We cannot drill our way out of this problem.
Pelosi reiterated her call to the president to release some of the oil from the Strategic Oil Reserve as a way to reduce record gasoline prices.
"The American people know that with two oilmen in the White House for the past seven years, they now have $4 a gallon gas," she said.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican, said the president was on the wrong track.
"I know people are frustrated with the soaring price of gas, and I welcome the national debate on solutions to lower our energy costs, but in California we know offshore drilling is not the answer," the governor said in a statement. "We will continue to foster a market for alternative energies because choice is the only way we will ultimately bring down fuel costs."