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Oil drilling will frame compromise

As soon as Congress returns from its current recess, it should pass energy legislation that includes allowing drilling in formerly banned coastal areas -- not that the drilling in itself will lower prices at the pump but that it is a necessary action to achieve compromise and pass a bill.

That compromise came a step closer on Tuesday as the Senate Gang of 10 grew to Gang of 16.

Three Democrats and three Republicans joined the bipartisan group in backing a bill that would lift a ban on oil and natural gas drilling in the eastern Gulf of Mexico and off the southeastern U.S. coast, invest $20 billion in the development of petroleum-free motor vehicles and extend tax credits for renewable energy. It still would not lift the ban on the entire Atlantic and Pacific coasts, or from the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, which the Bush administration and other Senate Republicans seek.

The Group of 16 now includes Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minn., who told the Pioneer earlier this month that he intended to join the group to find compromise.

"We can no longer afford to only undertake some solutions, while leaving others behind -- all options must be on the table. That is why I am pleased to join this bipartisan group of senators who seek to increase domestic oil production and R&D for biofuels and fuel efficiency, support nuclear energy, convert vehicles to non-oil fuel sources, and all other solutions that we can find compromise to when the Senate gets back in September," Coleman said Tuesday.

His Democrat opponent, Al Franken, also raises a valid point. He doesn't support expanded drilling but says oil companies should explore the leases they now hold. We agree that the companies should use their current leases, or let the public know why they can't. Bu still, new areas of exploration must be found and explored in order to boost domestic production.

Our new energy policy needs to have virtually everything on the table in order to even begin lessening our reliance on foreign oil. And that includes energy conservation.

The Gang of 16 may be able to get the ball rolling, although they too will have to compromise. Senate Democrats plan to attach measures to sell oil from the national emergency stockpile and to raise royalties paid by oil companies.

Still, focus needs to be put on accomplishing something -- and soon.

-- Bemidji Pioneer