WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush pressed lawmakers Tuesday to lift a ban on offshore oil drilling, saying "the only thing standing between the American people and these vast oil resources is action from the U.S. Congress."
President Bush wants Congress to repeal a law that prohibits offshore oil drilling.
On Monday, the president lifted an executive order that prohibited offshore drilling. A 1981 law barring the practice remains in effect, however, and Congress would have to vote to repeal the law before any drilling could occur. Congressional Democrats have opposed efforts to repeal the ban.
"The sooner Congress lifts the ban, the sooner we can get these resources from the ocean floor to the refineries, to the gas pump," the president said.
"Democratic leaders have been delaying action on offshore exploration, and now they have an opportunity to show that they finally heard the frustrations of the American people," Bush said. "They should match the action I have taken, repeal the congressional ban and pass legislation to facilitate responsible offshore exploration." Watch Bush say 'it's time to get it done' »
Congressional Republicans joined the president in pressing the Democrats to repeal the drilling ban.
House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, accused congressional Democrats of standing "in the way of more American-made energy" and pushed for legislation that would not only permit offshore drilling but also allow oil exploration in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska and the processing of oil-containing sand in the West. Democrats have repeatedly blocked oil exploration in ANWR, arguing that it would damage the fragile Arctic environment.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, said "$4-a-gallon gasoline is unacceptable to the American people and unacceptable to the Republicans in Congress, and we want to do something about it. And doing something about it involves both finding more and using less. We need to do both." See how gas prices have gone up across the country »
But House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, resisted the Republicans' calls for an expansion of offshore drilling, saying it would do little to reduce prices at the pump in the near term.
What the president should do immediately to lower gas prices, Pelosi said, is release oil from the 700 million barrels in the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. Bush has resisted that move because, he says, it would hurt national security.
"The president said ... that drilling offshore would not have an impact on the price at the pump, and I'm glad he's finally admitted that to the American people," Pelosi said. "Our message back to the president is, 'It's the economy, Mr. President.' " Watch how drilling will not lower the price at the pump »
Officials in coastal states, including Florida and California, have also expressed opposition to Bush's push to expand offshore drilling.
California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican, issued a statement Monday afternoon that said, "I know people are frustrated with the soaring price of gas, and I welcome the national debate on solutions to lower our energy costs, but in California, we know offshore drilling is not the answer. We will continue to foster a market for alternative energies, because choice is the only way we will ultimately bring down fuel costs." iReport.com: Is drilling the answer?
But Bush said Tuesday that lifting the ban would "send a signal that we're willing to explore for ... oil here at home."
"I fully understand this is ... a transition period away from hydrocarbons," he said. "But we ought to be wise about how we ... use our own resources."
The potential damage drilling could cause to reefs has been a major reason driving opposition to an expansion of offshore drilling, but Bush said new technology would allow companies to explore for oil without damaging coastal reefs.
"I'm concerned about the reefs. I'm a fisherman. I like to fish. Reefs are important for fisheries," Bush said.
"But the technology is such that you can protect the reefs," he said, noting that new techniques allow for companies to drill vertically far from a reef and then drill horizontally to get to oil reserves that are under sensitive reef environments.