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Our Sacred Coasts?
By Richard Charter
For those who value a healthy marine environment and clean coastal waters, the past three months have presented alarming threats and challenges. In July, President Bush unilaterally removed his father’s longstanding executive leasing ban preventing offshore drilling in sensitive waters. He then called on Congress to lift the separate 27-year congressional moratorium on new drilling rigs off of the Pacific coast, the Atlantic coast, and Florida’s Gulf Coast.
In spite of the President’s own decision to lift the executive Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) leasing deferrals nationwide, Congress has been largely immobilized by a highly partisan stalemate in both the House and Senate over whether or not to renew the similar annual OCS legislative moratorium.
This year, the oil industry has spent what is reputed to be nearly a hundred-million-dollars on an unprecedented media and lobbying campaign to try to convince Congress and the public that drilling in these long-protected congressional moratorium areas will somehow quickly lower gasoline prices at the pump.
Public opinion in many states, including among Californians, indicates a gradual shift toward favoring more drilling offshore, as some voters apparently have begun to lend credence to the oil industry’s false premise. Senator John McCain first reversed his own history of supporting the OCS moratorium, speaking instead in favor of offshore drilling, followed two weeks later by a parallel move by Senator Obama to support “some additional drilling offshore” as well.
The fate of much of America’s coastline is thus irrevocably tied to the outcome of the upcoming November presidential election. With more drilling vs. some drilling in the balance, it’s become a matter of which candidate we trust as president to take better care of the marine environment.
As Congress adjourned for its usual August legislative recess, a few of the Republican minority congressmembers staged a noisy and disgruntled protest on the Floor of the House of Representatives, shouting into bullhorns while refusing to leave the House Chamber, and demanding a vote to open the coast to offshore drilling.
Ironically, those continuing this rant about drilling are, in many cases, the same Members of Congress that have, for more than a decade, blocked the adoption of painless conservation measures and renewable energy sources, while barring reasonable improvements in fuel efficiency for cars and light trucks. Such efforts could have lessened our dependence on petroleum by now by speeding up the adoption of more efficient vehicles that go further on tank of gas. These actions would have largely alleviated the present speculative price increases for oil.
Meanwhile, in the U.S. Senate, only the federal criminal indictment of Alaska’s Senator Ted Stevens may have prevented a late-session vote on drilling by that body. A group of Senators calling themselves the Gang of Ten unveiled what they called a “compromise” drilling proposal as Congress prepared to adjourn for the August recess, demanding that offshore drilling be permitted fifty miles from shore off of Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia if the governors of those states concur.
The Gang of Ten scheme also calls for drilling off of the Gulf Coast of Florida fifty miles from shore, absent any input whatsoever by that state’s governor. The Gang of Ten drilling proposal, if adopted, would violate a bipartisan 2006 compromise—between the Florida House and Senate delegations, then-Governor Jeb Bush, and the White House—that opened 8.2 million acres of the Eastern Gulf of Mexico to new drilling this past January in exchange for protection until 2022 for much of the rest of Florida’s Gulf Coast. Now even this carefully-crafted compromise is under assault.
September promises to bring what is being termed the “Day of Reckoning” in both the House and the Senate, with congressional votes to determine the fate of America’s coastal national treasures. Now is a very good time to call your respective House and Senate offices, asking that the offshore drilling moratorium be continued. The U.S. Capitol Switchboard is at 202 224-3121 and you can ask for the offices you wish to contact and the operators will put your call through.
Concurrent with the overarching offshore drilling impasse on Capitol Hill, the Department of Interior’s Minerals Management Service (MMS) quickly unveiled a plan to rewrite their present 2007-2012 “Five-Year OCS Leasing Program.” It was adopted only last year, to rapidly speed up leasing in any or all of the previously protected waters where the White House anticipates that the congressional OCS moratorium might be removed this September. In response, you may also want to take advantage of the MMS public comment period lasting only until September 15, now in progress at this web address.
Against this sobering backdrop, HR 1187, a bill by California’s Representative Lynn Woolsey and Senator Barbara Boxer that would extend the northern boundaries of the Gulf of the Farallones and Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuaries northward to Pt. Arena, has passed the House of Representatives and has also been reported out of the Senate Commerce Committee, where it now awaits action by the full Senate. Amidst the anticipated drilling showdown in Washington during September, final passage of this important regional protection in the Senate may or may not happen. Again, on this issue, your expression of support to Senator Harry Reid, the Senate Majority Leader, is critical at this time.
Prepared by Richard Charter
Government Relations Consultant
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