President Bush urged Congress to end a ban on offshore oil drilling, seeking to address rising consumer angst over record-high gasoline prices with a plan sure to anger environmentalists.
"Every American who drives to work, purchases food or ships a product has felt the effect, and families across the country are looking to Washington for a response," Bush said.
As average U.S. pump prices pierced the $4-a-gallon level for the first time this month, energy policy has become a key issue in the presidential race ahead of November elections.
Bush said opening federal lands off the U.S. east and west coasts -- where oil drilling has been banned by both an executive order and a congressional moratorium since the early 1990s -- could yield about 18 billion barrels of oil.
That's enough to meet current U.S. consumption for about 2 1/2 years, but it likely would take a decade or more to find the oil and produce it.
Bush's latest drilling plan comes as lawmakers on Capitol Hill wage a war of words over who is to blame for record-high gasoline prices.
Republicans and Bush have repeatedly blamed Democrats for blocking legislation that opens offshore lands and the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska to drilling.
"Democrats on Capitol Hill have rejected virtually every proposal, and now Americans are paying the price at the pump for this obstruction," Bush said.
About 60 percent of Americans support government moves to encourage more oil drilling and refinery construction as a way to combat soaring energy prices -- but the same number also profess to be in favor of conservation, according to a Reuters/Zogby poll released Wednesday.
Republicans, including presidential candidate John McCain who announced his position this week after opposing it in the past, increasingly support lifting the ban on offshore oil drilling.
Barack Obama who is running for president, and fellow Democrats, oppose it over environmental concerns and say such action would have little immediate impact on fuel prices.
Bush's statement was the latest in a long-running blame game between Democrats and Republicans over who shoulders the blame for high fuel prices.
"I know the Democratic leaders have opposed some of these policies in the past. Now that their opposition has helped drive gas prices to record levels, I ask them to reconsider their positions," Bush said.
Environmental groups have long opposed expanded offshore oil drilling, raising concerns about the dangers to fragile ecosystems as well potential for oilspills that could mar the U.S. coastline.
"The Bush-McCain plan is a gift to the oil companies that endangers the economic and environmental health of the Jersey Shore and our entire state," said Sen. Frank Lautenberg, a New Jersey Democrat.
Bush also proposed an end to the ban on oil shale drilling, and said the United States needs to expand its refining capacity and proposed measures to speed up federal approval of refinery building permits.