Last night, the House passed a Democrat sponsored bill that opens the door for new and expanded offshore drilling. The vote effectively ends a 27-year moratorium on new offshore drilling.

The measure, HR 6899, was approved by a 236-189 vote after a Republican motion to recommit it in the House Natural Resources Committee was rejected.

The bill allows drilling at least 100 miles off the Atlantic and Pacific coastlines, with an option for states to allow exploration as close as 50 miles from shore.

The bill keeps the ban on drilling in the eastern Gulf of Mexico off Florida but lifts the moratorium on developing oil shale from Colorado, Utah and Wyoming so long as the three states agree. Massachusetts lawmakers made an 11th hour addition prohibiting exploration in Georges Bank.

Environmentalists had earlier pinned their hopes on Democrats maintaining their longstanding opposition to offshore drilling. In fact, as recently as August 2008 House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) had pledged her unwavering opposition to offshore drilling, saying, “I’m not giving the gavel away to a tactic…that supports the oil (companies), big oil at the cost and the expense of the consumer.”

However Pelosi reversed her position in recent weeks, eventually championing HR 6899.

“(This bill) was the result of a bipartisan compromise in favor of sweeping innovation solutions for America’s energy future,” said Pelosi.