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Obama says offshore drilling stance nothing new

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  • Obama says he's willing to compromise on offshore oil drilling
  • McCain supports drilling proposal; Obama has opposed it in the past
  • President Bush has been urging Congress to repeal law banning offshore drilling
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From Ed Hornick and Alexander Marquardt
CNN
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CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida (CNN) -- Sen. Barack Obama responded Saturday to criticism that he has changed his position on opposing offshore oil drilling.

If President Bush persuades Congress to lift the ban, oil rigs like this one off Canada will appear off U.S. shores.

Sen. Barack Obama takes a question from reporters during a news conference in Cape Canaveral, Florida, Saturday.

Obama said Friday that he would be willing to compromise on his position against offshore oil drilling if it were part of a more overarching strategy to lower energy costs.

"My interest is in making sure we've got the kind of comprehensive energy policy that can bring down gas prices," Obama told The Palm Beach Post early into a two-day swing through Florida.

But on Saturday morning, Obama said this "wasn't really a new position."

"I made a general point about the fact that we need to provide the American people some relief and that there has been constructive conversations between Republicans and Democrats in the Senate on this issue," he said during a press conference in Cape Canaveral.

"What I will not do, and this has always been my position, is to support a plan that suggests this drilling is the answer to our energy problems," Obama added.

"If we've got a plan on the table that I think meets the goals that America has to set and there are some things in there that I don't like, then obviously that's something that I would consider because that's the nature of how we govern in a democracy."

The senator from Illinois has spoken out against offshore drilling since Sen. John McCain in June proposed striking down the federal moratorium banning offshore oil and gas drilling to help alleviate high gas prices. See where offshore drilling is allowed »

"When I'm president, I intend to keep in place the moratorium here in Florida and around the country that prevents oil companies from drilling off Florida's coasts," Obama told reporters in Jacksonville in late June. "That's how we can protect our coastline and still make the investments that will reduce our dependence on foreign oil and bring down gas prices for good."

Even as recently as Thursday, Obama refused to cede any ground, calling McCain's proposal "a strategy designed to get politicians through an election." Video Watch McCain defends his drilling position »

"It's not going to provide short-term relief or medium-term relief or in fact long-term relief. It won't drop prices in this administration or in the next administration or in the administration after that," Obama said while campaigning in Iowa.

But Friday, Obama admitted that something is better than nothing and praised a bipartisan energy plan from the Senate that combines alternative energy innovation, financial, nuclear energy and drilling proposals.

He said he is still skeptical about drilling's potential to lower gas prices or reduce dependence on foreign oil.

"The Republicans and the oil companies have been really beating the drums on drilling," Obama said in the interview with the Florida paper, "and so we don't want gridlock. We want to get something done."

The McCain camp was quick to applaud Obama's softening on the issue.

"It's clear that members of both parties are following John McCain's leadership toward an 'all of the above' approach on energy that includes nuclear, alternative energy, and offshore drilling," said a McCain spokesman.

Most Americans support an increase in offshore oil drilling, but the public is split over whether drilling would lead to lower gas prices next year, according to a CNN/Opinion Research Corp. poll out last week.

According to the poll, 69 percent favor offshore drilling and 30 percent oppose it.

Just over half -- 51 percent -- think the drilling would lower gas prices next year, while 49 percent say it would not.

The survey is based on interviews with 1,041 adult Americans conducted by telephone on July 27-29. It carries a margin of error of plus or minus 4.5 percentage points.

Most Republicans want to lift a 1981 ban on offshore drilling, saying it will increase domestic oil supplies. But the Democratic leadership wants to keep the ban in place, arguing that more offshore drilling will have little effect on prices and could threaten the environment.

Republicans also want to legalize drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska and allow the processing of oil shale on public lands in the West -- two actions Democrats also oppose.

Oil shale is sedimentary rock with oil in it that has historically been considered too expensive to process. Several environmental risks are associated with extracting oil shale.

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House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, said the president was perpetrating a "hoax" by pushing for more offshore oil drilling.

"The president has failed in his economic policy, and now he wants to say, 'but for drilling in protected areas offshore, our economy would be thriving and the price of gas would be lower,' " Pelosi said. "That hoax is unworthy of the serious debate we must have to relieve the pain of consumers at the pump and to promote energy independence."

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