Democrats seek to re­visit lift­ing of off­shore drilling ban

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY TOM LOBIANCO

Fac­ing gas prices near $4 a gal­lon and a piv­otal na­tional elec­tion, con­gres­sional Democrats al­lowed a ban on off­shore drilling to lapse in Septem­ber.

But times change, and on Feb. 10, the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion — with gas prices roughly half what they were and many Democrats’ hav­ing been swept into of­fice — blocked off­shore drilling plans put in place at the last minute by the Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion, in­clud­ing plans to open the na­tional outer con­ti­nen­tal shelf for drilling.

In­te­rior Depart­ment Sec­re­tary Ken Salazar also an­nounced two weeks ago that his agency would block drilling on pub­lic lands in Utah, crit­i­ciz­ing the Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion for re­leas­ing its off­shore drilling plan just days be­fore leav­ing of­fice.

“It was a head­long rush of the worst kind,” he said. “It was a process rigged to force hur­ried de­ci­sions based on bad in­for­ma­tion. It was a process tilted to­ward the usual en­ergy play­ers while re­new­able en­ergy com­pa­nies and the in­ter­ests of Amer­i­can con­sumers and tax­pay­ers were over­looked.”

Mr. Salazar said he plans to hold four meet­ings na­tion­wide as he con­sid­ers how to re­write the na­tion’s five-year off­shore drilling plan and has ex­tended the pub­lic- com­ment pe­riod six months, push­ing any action well into the fall.

A for­mer Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion staffer said the ex­tended re­view process need­lessly drags out an al­ready thor­ough process.

“Given the do­mes­tic-sup­ply chal­lenges we face, it’s hard to imag­ine what more can be ac­com­plished by ex­tend­ing the com­ment pe­riod,” said Michael D. Olsen, a for­mer In­te­rior Depart­ment staffer now work­ing with the Bracewell & Gi­u­liani law firm.

Off­shore oil ex­plo­ration and drilling be­came a tough topic for Democrats dur­ing the 2008 elec- tions, as gas prices topped $4 a gal­lon and pub­lic opin­ion polls showed broad sup­port for ex­panded do­mes­tic oil pro­duc­tion — a prospect op­posed by many en­vi­ron­men­tal groups at the core of their base.

The con­gres­sional mora­to­rium, which had been in place since 1982, lapsed just months af­ter Pres­i­dent Bush lifted an ex­ec­u­tive or­der ban­ning off­shore drilling.

Mr. Salazar also chas­tised the Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion’s snub­bing of off­shore wind farms, say­ing that off­shore re­new­able en­ergy sources would be in­cluded in the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s new en­ergy plans.

“For them, it was oil and gas or noth­ing,” he said of the Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion.

Pres­i­dent Obama has said that he sup­ports do­mes­tic oil ex­plo­ration and pro­duc­tion as part of a larger plan to break the na­tion’s de­pen­dence on for­eign oil, but oil com­pa­nies and Repub­li­can leaders have been skit­tish since he took of­fice.

En­vi­ron­men­tal groups said that they were en­cour­aged by Mr. Salazar’s an­nounce­ment but that off­shore drilling should be banned out­right.

“Without a new mora­to­rium, our coasts and oceans will be more vul­ner­a­ble to oil dam­age than they have been since the Exxon Valdez spill,” said Jac­que­line Savitz, se­nior cam­paign di­rec­tor for Oceana, a non­profit that tracks the health of the oceans. “Say­ing ‘no’ to off­shore drilling is the only way to keep sen­si­tive ocean and coastal ar­eas from be­com­ing oiled in­dus­trial zones, and to put a lid on cli­mate change by re­duc­ing our use of fos­sil fu­els.”

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IM­AGES

In­te­rior Sec­re­tar y Ken Salazar will de­lay a plan made in the wan­ing days of the Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion to al­low off­shore oil drilling. He has ex­tended a pub­lic-com­ment pe­riod, a tac­tic crit­ics say is only drag­ging his feet.

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