Tuesday, July 22, 2008 | 3:16 p.m.
WASHINGTON -- In trying to lessen the pain of $4-a-gallon gas, Rep. Dean Heller has developed a strategy similar to his attitude toward gold mining in his mostly northern Nevada district.
Drill where there’s oil, not where it’s politically polite.
High gas prices are bound to be a top campaign issue when Heller and Democrat Jill Derby face off in the sprawling district that includes the state’s rural-most reaches, where residents drive long distances and rely on gas-thirsty trucks to get around.
After touring Alaska’s oil rich North Slope and a federal renewable energy lab in Colorado with fellow Republicans over the weekend, Heller returned to Washington committed to drilling. (He also reiterated his support for nuclear power, so long as the waste remains on site and is not shipped to Yucca Mountain, the planned national waste dump north of Las Vegas.)
Renewable energy, he said today, is a key element of his three-pronged gas-price reduction strategy that includes conservation, but based on the electric and hydrogen cars he saw in Colorado, not one ready for prime time.
“Renewable energy is critical in the future. I just don’t see it moving so quickly,” Heller told reporters. “That’s why we have to make sure we think about all three -- conservation, renewable energy and also additional drilling.”
Heller joins his fellow Republicans in their push to lift the decades-old ban on off-shore drilling, as President Bush called for last week -- something Democrats mostly oppose.
He also supports House Republicans’ desire to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for drilling -- an effort their counterparts in the Senate have essentially tabled as too controversial, especially since it is opposed by the party’s presumed presidential nominee, Sen. John McCain.
Democrats counter that drilling in the environmentally sensitive Arctic refuge would only lower the price of gas by a few cents a gallon.
Heller also said he supports increased drilling in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska, a federal oil-producing region west of the Arctic refuge -- though he voted against a Democratic bill last week that would have forced oil companies to step up their activity there or lose their leases. The bill failed.
“You drill where the oil is,” Heller said Tuesday. “You don’t mine for gold where bureaucrats or some group tells you. You have to go where the gold is, that’s where you mine. Same with oil. Where the oil is, is where you should be drilling.”
The House Democrats’ national campaign arm criticized the Republican trip as a taxpayer-funded junket to highlight the oil companies’ agenda.
Democrats in Congress are instead pushing bills to bring prices down by reigning in oil market speculators and accelerating oil exploration of areas already open to development.
Derby opposes opening the wildlife refuge to drilling. Instead, she supports the House Democrats’ strategy of requiring the oil companies to use-or-lose their leases in the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska.
While some Democrats have indicated a willingness to break rank with the party to support off-shore drilling in the coastal and Gulf states, Derby is still considering her position on the issue, her spokesman said.