The Free Press, Mankato, MN

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July 30, 2008

Oil gridlock under attack

Walz part of bipartisan group

Congressman Tim Walz is part of a coalition of Republican and Democratic House members who believe they have a solution to the partisan gridlock on legislation to tackle America’s growing energy crisis.

The proposed legislation would allow more oil drilling off the nation’s coasts and use royalties paid for the drilling rights to finance alternative energy and conservation programs. It would maintain the ban on drilling in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge while releasing oil from the nation’s Strategic Petroleum Reserve to drive down prices in the short term.

“I think it’s what the public has been asking for,” Walz said.

The coalition, which Walz said was made up of 14 Republicans and 10 Democrats, has been meeting for about one month without the blessing or participation of House leaders from either party. A Mankato Democrat, Walz said the coalition’s hope is that House members will get an earful from constituents during their long August recess about the gridlock on energy in Washington and that the lawmakers will return in September looking for a compromise to enact.

“The cynics will say ‘No way,’” Walz said of the prospects of passing such a sweeping bill in the few remaining weeks before lawmakers devote their full attention to campaigning. “... When they go home (for the August break), we think the public is going to be asking members, ‘Why don’t you sign on to this bill?’”

The process involved in developing the bill left longtime members saying it was one of the more refreshing experiences they’ve had in Congress, Walz said of the way compromises were negotiated and agreement was reached.

“There was no talk with leadership, no talk with lobbyists,” he said. “It was 24 members sitting in a room.”

The key compromise involves lifting some — but not all — restrictions on offshore drilling in the Outer Continental Shelf. Removing virtually all restrictions on offshore drilling has become the chief strategy of Republican leaders, including GOP presidential candidate John McCain.

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