Monday, July 24, 2006

This Week in U.S. Senate: Drilling America's Coasts for Oil

Under the cloak of the ongoing crisis in the Middle East, the Republican-majority Senate is set to debate legislation this week to open 8.3 million acres (beginning 125 miles south of the Panhandle) for oil and gas production, possibly with support from both of Florida's senators. The House passed a broader offshore drilling bill last month.

If the Senate passes a bill, any bill to drill oil, it will go to conference committee. Once in conference committee, the bill turns into the more all-encompassing one that the House passed - drilling off of all of U.S. coastlines. That is what has happened on every piece of legislation of the last six years in the Republican-controlled Congress that went to conference committee.

The Republican-controlled House passes legislation that the corporate lobbyists working out of the Bush-Cheney White House have written. The Republican-controlled Senate then passes a different version, slightly more sensitive to the People of the U.S. The leaders of both Houses then choose a couple of members from their chambers, Republican majority again, and send them to come up with a compromise bill. In conference, the bill will only contain those provisions from the Senate's bill as are necessary to get a majority vote. And sometimes, not even those. Conferenced bills will be brought to the floors of both Chambers for a vote, thousands of pages that the members of Congress haven't had time to read, but are then pressured to vote for it. That's how most of the Bush-Cheney administration got passed in the first term.

Instead of moving to alternative energies, the oil-owned Senate: expected to decide this week whether to open vast areas off the coast of Florida to oil and gas drilling, a debate with billions of dollars in energy royalties at stake that could affect the ability of coastal states like California to prevent drilling off their shores.

Senate Republicans want to allow drilling in Lease Area 181, a portion of the eastern Gulf of Mexico south of Florida's Panhandle that is believed to contain one of the nation's largest untapped reserves of oil and natural gas. Proponents claim that opening the new area could help rein in the high energy prices consumers are paying and reduce America's dependence on foreign sources.
It hasn't yet.

No matter how much profit the oil corporations enjoy, they have never passed it on to the consumer. Never.
But environmentalists and many California officials are worried the bill, if approved, could be merged with a more sweeping House measure approved last month that would end the quarter-century federal ban on drilling off the Pacific and Atlantic coasts and offer states lucrative financial incentives to approve oil and gas exploration.

"It is too early to speculate about what the final Senate bill will look like and what compromise, if any, can be reached in conference," said Rep. Lois Capps, D-Santa Barbara, a leading opponent of drilling in the House. "I would submit that any expansion of offshore drilling is a step in the wrong direction because it continues to enable our addiction to fossil fuels rather than pursuing efforts to reduce consumption and develop alternative energy sources."

Whenever the Republican Congress has been faced with obstacles, they break up their goal into steps. Once they get their foot in the door, it's only a matter of time before they are able to get everything on their wishlist. With a GOP-controlled Congress, it's only been a matter of months until they have been able to blow past all of the obstacles.

California's two Democratic senators -- Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer -- had joined with New Jersey's two Democratic senators to stop the bill, until they received assurances it would not harm their states' coasts. But Senate Republican leaders decided to put the measure on the fast track, despite the threat of a filibuster led by drilling opponents. Key votes on the drilling measure are expected as soon as Wednesday.

This is one reason why both Feinstein and Boxer have to go. They have consistently failed to recognize the overall Republican strategy of "dividing and conquering," and it won't be long before Florida's and California's coastlines, two of America's greatest tourist meccas, are covered in black tar.

And Mary Landrieu should be facing the same fate as Joe Lieberman - she is no Democrat, and has sold out the people of Louisiana. All of Landrieu's kissing up to Bush and voting with Republicans (bankruptcy bill, inheritance tax bill, far-rightwing judges, etc.) has gotten Louisianans' nothing but corporate pollution that is killing the people.
Much of the debate has focused on the generous revenue-sharing provisions added by lawmakers in Louisiana, Texas, Mississippi and Alabama. Oil and gas rigs have drilled off the coasts of those states for decades, and the states stand to receive a windfall if the bill becomes law.

Under the narrower Senate bill, 37.5 percent of all oil and gas royalties would go to energy-producing states in the Gulf of Mexico starting next year. The bill would extend the new revenue-sharing formula to all offshore projects across the country starting in 2016.

The House-passed bill contains an even more generous revenue-sharing scheme. States would receive 63.75 percent of royalties for oil and gas platforms within 12 miles of shore, and 42.5 percent of revenues for areas more than 12 miles offshore.

"Fundamental fairness dictates that states and local communities who voluntarily sustain this important energy industry should receive part of the proceeds," said Sen. Trent Lott, a Republican from Mississippi.

But even the Bush administration is worried that the legislation could divert billions of dollars from the federal Treasury at a time the nation is facing a costly war in Iraq and steep budget deficits.

However, new Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne said last week he believes a deal to share royalties can be reached.

The Senate bill was the product of a compromise reached this month between Republican leaders and Florida Sen. Mel Martinez, a Republican who has mostly opposed efforts to drill off Florida's coast.

Martinez agreed to allow drilling in an 8 million-acre portion of the eastern gulf in return for the promise that Florida would be allowed to block drilling all other projects within 125 miles of its coast.

Martinez has since been blasted by environmental groups in full-page newspaper and TV ads in his home state for agreeing to the deal. Florida's other senator, Democrat Bill Nelson, has said he may filibuster the bill.

Lease Area 181, which is about 100 miles south of the Florida Panhandle, is not covered by the congressional moratorium on drilling, but President Bush and his brother, Republican Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, had worked out a deal not to offer any new lease sales in the area. The areas covered by the Senate bill are estimated to contain 1.25 billion barrels of recoverable oil and 5 trillion cubic feet of gas.

California officials, including Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, are suspicious of the Senate measure, warning that it could pave the way for the House bill to become law. While the Senate bill would extend the federal ban on drilling nationwide by 10 years until 2022, the House bill would end the moratorium. The House measure also would require states that oppose drilling to petition the federal government every five years to block development of areas from 50 to 100 miles offshore. And states would have no control over oil and gas leases more than 100 miles off shore.

House Resources Committee Chairman Richard Pombo, R-Tracy, the chief architect of the House measure, said that if the Senate passes its bill this week, he plans to work in conference committee to add as many of the House provisions as possible.

"If the deal is good for Florida, why aren't my senators insisting that we get the same protections for my state?" Pombo said, referring to the Senate's bill provision to block drilling within 125 miles. "I want the same protections for California that they are willing to give Florida."

But the Senate bill faces major hurdles. It will take 60 votes to override a possible filibuster against the measure.

Among the bill's opponents is Sen. Ted Stevens, the powerful Alaska Republican lawmaker who chairs the Senate Commerce Committee.

Stevens supports offshore drilling, but was angered that Senate Republican leaders did not include Alaska among the states that will share in the billions of dollars in revenue. He said he plans to object on the Senate floor.
And nobody is talking about the devastating effects of oil spills.

Did you know that Exxon has yet to pay a penny for the destruction that their tanker, the Exxon Valdez, caused to Prince William Sound? It's been 17 years, and despite numerous judgments against them, Exxon files one appeal in U.S. courts after another, in their effort to avoid responsibility for future spills that will inevitably occur. Prince William Sound has not recovered, nor has the region or the people of Cordova, Alaska.

The fact is that all things conveying oil (rigs, pipelines, ships) leak, even excluding hurricanes, earthquakes and human error. The damage that is done to everything that the oil leaks into and onto (the ocean, beaches, land, the animals in and on, including human beings) is permanent, including our food supply and countless other industries.

The 1969 spill off of the coast of California led to the coastal drilling moratorium. 200,000 gallons of crude oil spilled out of a disabled oil rig stationed six miles off the coast of Santa Barbara, California, and spread out into an 800 square mile slick. Even today, you can't walk 35 miles of coastline without tar coating your feet. Try getting this off of your skin:

Tip: Soaking with acetone will take some of it off, but not all. To get it all off, you have to wait until your skin naturally sluffs off, which can take days to weeks. All the while, toxic sludge is glued to your body, risking your health.

Santa Barbara coastline, 1971:

In 1989:

Santa Barbara, May 1973

San Francisco, Golden Gate Bridge, 1970s. More than 1000 oil tankers pass under the Golden Gate bridge each year.

Santa Barbara Coast, Holly oil spill, November, 1981

In 1996 off the south coast of Wales, a supertanker ran aground on rocks, spilling between 65,000 and 70,000 ton of crude oil.

The 2001 Galopagos oil tanker spill leaked over 160,000 gallons of crude oil:

In 2002, an oil tanker carrying 20 million gallons of crude oil split open off of the northwest coast of Spain, spilling an unknown amount into the ocean and onto the coastline of Spain and Portugal:Two people walk across the Barranan beach covered with oil in Arteixo, northwestern Spain, Sunday Nov. 17, 2002 after oil spilled from the Bahamas-flagged tanker `Prestige' washed ashore Saturday. The tanker, that was in danger of splitting in two, was towed out to sea "to avoid an environmental catastrophe."

The Bouchard's spill in 2003

After Hurricane Katrina, 2005:

....a toxic soup that floated over the city of New Orleans and soaked into everything.

In 2005, BP (British Petroleum, now going by the green-sounding name of "Beyond Petroleum") operates the pipeline in Prudhoe Bay field, the "model" for proposed drilling in ANWR. BP is facing charges of failing to maintain the operation properly after a spill of some 267,000 gallons of oil was discovered on Alaska's North Slope region. It could lead to criminal charges and ultimately fines and prison sentences.

These are just a few of the spills - they happen every day, all over the world. Very few get reported in the media.

There are alternatives. Be a part of the solution and join the wave of change.

Tell Congress this is not the energy policy you want!

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