Today, the 109th Congress, having off-loaded the vast majority of its inbox for this last session, postponed voting on the offshore drilling bill (USA Today):
House Republicans on Tuesday postponed action on what was to be one of last major legislative achievements of this session of Congress, a bill to open a large area of the eastern Gulf of Mexico to oil and gas drilling.
Business groups have argued that new offshore energy development might ease natural gas prices, which have dropped significantly this year but still are three times to four times higher than what they were only a few years ago.
“This vote is the last chance Congress can come through for the American public,” said John Engler, president of the National Association of Manufacturers, urging the House to pass the Senate bill.
Personally, I doubt this would have much impact on natural gas prices, and even if it did, it would be a long-term outcome; exploration, followed by production, takes rather a lot of time. There is, however, rather more to this particular drilling measure than meets the eye:
Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., who helped craft the Senate bill, said the revamped revenue sharing plan would produce huge environmental benefits to the Gulf Coast by providing money for wetland restoration, levee repairs, flood control and hurricane protection. The bill eventually would give states 37.5 percent of royalties from all Gulf oil and gas production, compared with about 2 percent now.
For Louisiana that’s estimated to be more than $650 million a year, according to Landrieu’s office.
But some critics in Congress, as well as the Bush administration, have expressed concerns about the revenue loss to the Treasury and questioned why that much money should go to four states from federal resources.
Someone should remind those critics (including the Bush administration) that said money is not a federal bird in hand; this isn’t putting money in anyone’s coffers at the moment. Not only is it not drilled, it hasn’t been found or produced yet!
Furthermore, the drilling done to date off Louisiana’s coasts is considered to be a prime cause of the accelerated subsidence and lost coastland — in large part, what led to the terrible Katrina destruction.
Striving to preserve and or protect national lands and wilderness is a worthy aim, and when Senator Ted Stevens tried to open the ANWR as part of a post-Katrina aid package, I objected (in part) on just those grounds. However, opening the ANWR in Alaska as a condition for aid to the Gulf Coast was also a form of blackmail — a long-term goal for one state in exchange for a short-term and unsustainable band-aid elsewhere. A Louisiana that can contribute toward its own long-term future is a much different kettle of fish.
If there was ever a reason to approve further drilling, this is it.