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Drill, Baby, Drill?

May 6, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

Oil prices may have had their biggest drop since 2008 yesterday, but that didn’t stop the House from using the bubble to push forward their legislation to expand offshore oil drilling. By a vote of 266-149 yesterday, the House passed the “Restarting American Offshore Leasing Now Act,” which would force the Secretary of the Interior to conduct lease sales on three drilling sites in the Gulf of Mexico and one of the coast of Virginia. The Obama Administration had put these leases on hold indefinitely following the BP spill in order to ensure that the lax regulatory environment that made that spill possible had been improved. So far, however, Congress has not passed a single piece of legislation to improve offshore drilling safety.

The bill would also dodge existing protections by deeming environmental impact studies that were conducted on the sites prior to the BP spill to be sufficient for satisfying the requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act. Those environmental impact statements became the subjects of legal challenges following the BP spill, but this bill would block the court system and the federal government from completing their review.

Remember, BP was exempted from proper environmental impact studies for their wells in the Gulf of Mexico, and we know how that turned out. Last year when we learned that BP had been exempted, members of Congress from both parties were supportive of pausing the expansion of offshore drilling and revamping safety requirements. But it appears that the recent oil bubble provided cover for Congress to be able to “do something” and have that something be exactly what Koch Industries, Exxon Mobil and the other big oil interests want — more drilling, less regulation.

The bill now goes to the Senate, where its prospects are uncertain. Republicans in that chamber will likely try to attach it to some must-pass appropriations or reauthorization bill, but they will need to pick off at least 9 Democrats to vote for it in order to overcome an inevitable filibuster. 33 Democrats voted for it in the House, so 9 Democrats in the Senate seems possible.

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