US President George W Bush on Monday lifted a ban on offshore oil drilling in an effort to relax record high gasoline prices.
But exploration and drilling cannot proceed until Congress repeals legislation that prohibits offshore production because of the risk of oil spills and other environmental hazards. The Democratic majority has refused to end the moratorium.
"Democrats on Capitol Hill have rejected virtually every proposal. And now Americans are paying at the pump," Bush said.
Restrictions against offshore oil drilling began in the early 1980s and were expanded to a ban by the current president's father, George Bush, in 1990, with some exceptions for states along the Gulf of Mexico.
California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has said he will not lift the state's ban on drilling along the country's long and sightly coastline. Several East Coast governors also do not support Bush's effort.
Gasoline prices have reached more than $4 per gallon and placed a crunch on American consumers already dealing with a weakened economy and job losses.
"The failure to act is unacceptable," Bush said.
Bush believes more oil production would help meet demands, although critics say it would take years for exploration and drilling to have an impact.
The White House says there are about 18 billion barrels of oil that have yet to be explored off the US coast, matching current US oil output for about 10 years.
Democrats have strongly opposed lifting the ban on offshore drilling, saying US reserves are too small to make a real dent in the country's energy dependence and it could also hurt tourism in Florida and California.
Republican presidential nominee John McCain flipped on his position and now supports Bush's move, while his Democratic opponent, Barack Obama, wants to keep the ban in place.
"It would merely prolong the failed energy policies we have seen from Washington for 30 years," Obama spokesman Bill Burton said.