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One Final Lame Duck Attempt at Offshore Drilling

November 28, 2006 - by Donny Shaw

Word has it that when Congress comes back on December 4th they are going to try and pass an offshore drilling bill. Offshore drilling would not get the support in needed to pass in the upcoming Democratic Congress, so the current Republican-led Congress is going to have to work fast to make this happen. There are two bills up for consideration, one from each chamber of Congress, that would end a 25 year moratorium on drilling off the coast of the U.S. Both bills have passed the chamber that they came from and are awaiting approval from the other chamber.

The House bill would open up the entire coast of the U.S. to drilling. The Senate bill would only allow drilling in an area off the gulf coast near Alabama and the Florida panhandle. The House bill has been criticized by many regardless of their stance on offshore drilling for favoring oil company interests. Here is Sherwood Boehlert, House Science Committee Chairman, speaking against the bill on the House floor:

This bill basically hands over our coastal waters to the oil interests and makes it hard for states or citizens to do anything about that. That’s no exaggeration. The bill makes it difficult for a state to bar drilling. Then if a state allows drilling, the bill eliminates fundamental parts of the current process that allow states and citizens to review drilling plans to make sure they are environmentally sound and consistent with other possible uses of the waters. Then the bill blocks any use of the waters that could interfere with drilling. And finally, to add a Constitutional insult to all that coastal injury, it enables the Secretary of the Interior to threaten to withhold funding from states if the Secretary thinks Congress is interfering with oil drilling. This bill is breathtaking in its overreaching.

The Senate bill faces opposition mainly from people and groups that are concerned about the impacts drilling would have on the environment. To them, both bills are misguided because the amount of oil off the shore of the U.S. is too small to outweigh the risks of oil spills and water pollution that drilling presents. According to U.S. PIRG, the area opened up by the Senate bill will provide “25 days of oil and 35 days worth of natural gas over a period of 60 years at current consumption rates, offering a miniscule contribution to the Nation’s energy problems.”

As far as which bill is actually going to go through, only time can tell. Congress Daily has reported that energy industry leaders are pushing for the Senate bill to pass:

We’re hopeful that the House will determine that it makes good sense to take the Senate bill," American Petroleum Institute President Red Cavaney said at a forum hosted by Energy Daily. “Rather than go for a home run, take a single if you can get it.”

Ending a 25 year moratorium is a huge event in any case. Despite the fact that the Senate bill is a long shot from the Republican ideal, represented in the House bill, it is a crucial step in the direction Republicans favor.

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