Welch will support energy bill that includes authorization of oil drilling

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(Host) Congressman Peter Welch says he’ll support a comprehensive new energy bill that increases heating assistance and boosts spending on renewable energy.

Vermont environmentalists say they’re disappointed, because the bill also authorizes oil drilling off the Atlantic and Gulf coasts.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) Over the past few months, as energy prices have skyrocketed, House Democratic leaders in Washington have dropped their blanket opposition to new offshore drilling.

They now support some additional drilling, as long as it’s part of a comprehensive plan to help the country become more energy independent.

While some of the details of the bill are still being worked out, it’s likely it will include a significant increase in heating assistance funds and a big financial boost for renewable energy programs.

In return, the legislation would permit drilling within 100 miles of the Atlantic coast, from Virginia to Georgia and along the Gulf of Mexico.

New revenue generated from these projects would finance the heating assistance and renewable energy programs.  Congressman Peter Welch says the legislation is a fair trade off.

(Welch) “As part of the strategy to achieve those goals, help our folks make it through the winter and help our economy transition to an independent energy economy, I could support environmentally sensitive and specific drilling that could include parts of the outer continental shelf."

(Host) Welch says it’s going to take some time before the country can wean itself from its dependence on oil.

(Welch) “Obviously, we can’t just turn the spigot off instantly. So if drilling allows us to have a solid revenue stream to make that transition, then that’s sensible, a transition to a comprehensive energy policy."

(Host) The Vermont Public Interest Research Group usually supports Welch on key environmental issues. But VPIRG energy specialist James Moore says this bill is a lousy deal.

(Moore) “I think it’s a misguided compromise. You know, if we found oil in Lake Champlain, I don’t think most Vermonters would support erecting oil rigs. Because oil drilling is a dirty business and it would threaten our citizens’ health and our environment."

(Kinzel) Moore says Congress should pass the renewable energy programs without the drilling provision.

(Moore) “Allowing offshore oil drilling is not the type of leadership that we are looking for and will actually serve the American public the best. It’s certainly not the kind of leadership that we’d be looking for from our Vermont congressional delegation."

(Kinzel) The legislation could come up for a vote on the House floor as early as Friday.

For VPR News, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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