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General News    H4'ed 5/4/11

Stop the Dangerous Bills For More Drilling

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Just a week after the anniversary of the nation's greatest oil disaster, Congress is set to vote on legislation to open up virtually all federal waters to drilling, while cutting governmental oversight and safety measures at the same time.

That's sort of like telling the designer of the Titanic to forget about the icebergs and just build more ships. Full speed ahead!

Unfortunately some members of Congress are in lockstep with oil companies that are pushing for faster and deeper drilling. Some such as Rep. Doc Hastings of Washington are making promises that expanding drilling will magically reduce gas prices at the pump.

But facts get in the way of this fairy tale. NRDC President Frances Beinecke, a member of the presidential oil spill commission, recently blogged that not only will more drilling do virtually nothing to increase our energy independence, it will put our nation at further environmental and economic risk.

Congress should be strengthening efforts to protect workers, fishermen, the tourist industry, and the environment instead of requiring drilling in pristine areas like the Arctic and off every U.S. coast. We need to call our representatives (877-573-7693) and demand they reject these bills and work toward a positive energy solution for us all.

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Oil soaked boom last summer near South Pass, LA      Photo by Jessica Lass/NRDC

NRDC's David Goldston points out in a recent blog that one bill, H.R. 1231, would allow oil drilling off the East Coast from Maine to North Carolina and off the coast of Southern California and in the Arctic Ocean and Bristol Bay. 

This is replacing oil policy with a kind of oil mania.  Under this bill, neither this administration nor any future one could ever decide to limit drilling off the coast of New England, the Mid-Atlantic states, Southern California or Alaska because of economic or environmental concerns.  No administration could decide to "take a breather" before opening up more leases to see how previously permitted activities were working out, or because there had been a spill, or because there was unexpected damage to the ecology or tourism, or because a state objected, or because there was no additional capacity to respond to an emergency, or because the agency overseeing drilling was too overwhelmed to properly review proposals.   At least half the remaining unleashed territory would have to be put up for leasing each and every time no matter what had happened, no matter what could happen, no matter what concerns states or scientists or fishermen or federal officials might have. 

As if this dangerous piece of legislation isn't enough to worry about, two other bills have been introduced that are also potentially disastrous. Here's how my NRDC colleague Regan Nelson describes them in her recent blog:

H.R. 1229 forces the Secretary of Interior to approve drilling permits on a rushed and arbitrary timeline, and would automatically grant approval of permits if the Secretary fails to meet the deadline.  As I've written previously, BOEMRE (formerly MMS) has been chronically underfunded, and imposing unwarranted deadlines would push the engineering and environmental reviews beyond the practical limits of the agency's capabilities.  H.R. 1229 would also undermine the checks and balances of the judicial system by defining the location of courts that could hear civil actions against such permits, limiting judicial authority to decide a case, and eliminating attorney's fees for civil actions. 

H.R. 1230 would sidestep proper environmental analysis, and force lease sales that the Administration cancelled in the wake of the BP Gulf oil disaster, including off the coast of Virginia.  The Administration cancelled these lease sales in order to ensure it "learned lessons" from the Gulf disaster; yet as the Times-Picayune noted recently, Congress has failed to pass any substantial legislation after the spill and now is acting as if the nation's worst oil spill never happened.   

The oil industry is using double stresses of high gas prices and Americans' already-pinched wallets to gain support for a "solution" that will fill their coffers, but do little to bring down the price of a gallon of gas. The truth is we cannot drill our way out of our energy and economic woes. It will just make matters worse by increasing our dependence on oil while increasing the likelihood of future environmental disasters. Just ask the fishermen and residents of the Gulf Coast who are still struggling with an ongoing environmental oil disaster. If fish, dolphins, birds and turtles could vote, these fool-hardy bills would no doubt be dead on arrival. One can only hope the majority of their human counterparts feel the same way. 

David Goldston sums up the legislative folly this way:

So the first bills on drilling to come before the Republican-controlled House since the Gulf disaster try to wish away that catastrophic event. They would open almost all the waters of the U.S. to oil drilling; prevent any judgments from being made about where and when and how to drill; tie the hands of this and future administrations and the courts; and weaken the system of safety and environmental review.  Quite a legacy.

Quite a legacy indeed. That's why it's important we all stand up and make our voices heard. Each one of us can make a difference, and each of us needs to act now. It's easy to do. Just follow NRDC's action alert below:

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Rocky Kistner is a media associate with the Natural Resources Defense Council. Since June, 2010, he has focused on the BP oil disaster in the Gulf, working out of NRDC's Gulf Resource Center in Buras, LA. He is a been a print and broadcast (more...)
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