In response to soaring fuel prices, the Democratic-controlled House last night passed an energy package that would allow offshore drilling for the first time in 26 years.

The measure, which passed by a 236-to-189 margin along party lines, would lift a ban on offshore drilling in place since 1982 and allow companies to drill for oil and gas 50 to 100 miles out to sea.

Conservationists have vehemently opposed drilling near U.S. coasts because of its potential to pollute the oceans and disrupt the ecosystem. But they have offered little criticism of the bill. "The lack of complaints from environmental groups about this sham Democratic bill is a telling sign," Michael Steel, an aide to House Minority Leader John Boehner, told Politico. "It’s the dog that didn’t bark."

In an attempt to ease opposition, Democrats included provisions such as tax credits for wind and solar companies as well as for development of biofuels and purchases of hybrid vehicles, according to an Associated Press blow-by-blow of the changes. The plan would also eliminate $18 billion in tax breaks for oil companies, the New York Times notes.

Advisors to President Bush say they will recommend that he veto the House bill if it makes it to his desk, insisting that it would hinder the development of offshore drilling, CNN is reporting.
Republicans have described the bill, sponsored by Rep. Nick Rahall (D-VA) as a gimmick, insisting that Democrats offered it to calm consumer anger over sky-high gas prices in an election year even though it's unlikely to pass without tax breaks and protections from environmental lawsuits for the oil industry.

The Senate may consider the measure next week, CNN reports.

(Image of oil rig from iStockphoto, Copyright: S. Greg Panosian)