WASHINGTON — President Bush said Monday that he has no plans to reconsider his decision putting much of the California coast off limits to new oil drilling. But he warned California and other parts of the country that "someday, we are going to have to realize that we are becoming too dependent on foreign oil."
"We simply cannot have it prevail" that every part of the country insists that the United States should "do some drilling, but do it in somebody else's area," Bush said in a briefing for reporters from regional newspapers.
"That's not good enough."
Since the Persian Gulf crisis began, the oil industry and its allies have pushed to get rid of restrictions on where they can drill.
Bush has backed the industry on one of its goals--opening the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge to oil exploration. But with a crucial election for governor coming up in California, the President has not wanted to reopen the politically touchy issue of coastal drilling.
"I don't believe that the supply situation is such that I have to revisit the decisions I did make that affect Florida and affect those certain areas in California," Bush said, referring to a drilling moratorium in those areas that he ordered last spring.
The President plans to leave Washington today for a West Coast campaign swing that will bring him to Denver and then to California for appearances on behalf of Republican gubernatorial candidate Pete Wilson.
Bush has made the California race one of the top political priorities for the White House this fall because of fear that if the Democrats control both the governor's mansion and the state Legislature, the GOP will lose badly when the state redraws congressional district maps next year.
This spring, after months of delay and indecision, Bush announced a plan that would effectively prevent new drilling in federal waters off the California coast for the rest of the decade. Some parts of the coast, considered particularly scenic or environmentally sensitive, were put off limits permanently.
But Bush, who made his fortune as a young man as an oil driller, made it clear that he continues to support offshore drilling and believes that it can be done safely. Part of the solution to the nation's energy problem "is going to have to be more hydrocarbon drilling," Bush said, adding that he believed the goal could be accomplished "without having to do damage to the highly sensitive environmental areas."
Alaska drilling could become a major issue in Congress this fall. Supporters of drilling may try to bring the issue up in the Senate next week as an amendment to a bill that would increase fuel economy rules for automobiles. A similar amendment to open up the wildlife refuge could come up in the House when that body considers a bill appropriating money for the Interior Department, which controls the refuge.
Oil industry officials say the refuge could contain the last major untapped pool of oil likely to be found in the continental United States. But environmentalists counter that the refuge is a unique habitat for many species, particularly the huge caribou herd that lives there. Oil drilling would inevitably disrupt the fragile Arctic ecosystem, they argue.
Bush also reiterated his support for several new oil industry tax breaks his Administration has proposed. Those measures "should be vigorously pushed to stimulate domestic drilling," Bush said. "I think that is a place where we'll push hard now," he said.