The House Votes for More Drilling; Less Protection

Today, a little over a year after the BP Gulf oil disaster, the House of Representative awarded the oil industry two gifts.  First, they prevented an attempt to end $4 billion worth of annual tax subsidies to oil companies, which I wrote about yesterday.  Second, they lowered environmental standards for drilling off our coasts.  Despite the fact that we have more drilling going on now than we have had in decades, the House has passed a bill—H.R. 1230—that weakens environmental review for new off-shore drilling and immediately moves forward with lease sales off the coast of Virginia and in the Central and Western Gulf.

Amnesia is a rare disease common only on soap operas and, apparently, in the House of Representatives. What lessons did the House learn from the BP spill?  Apparently none.  

The environmental analyses done for the leases – which this bill deems as “sufficient” and not open to modification – were completed before the BP Gulf oil disaster. But these analyses are not adequate in a post-spill world. The analyses argued that a massive oil spill was not possible because any spill would be quickly contained; indeed, they estimated the a spill from these leases would likely not exceed 4,600 barrels. Yet, we now know from the BP spill that worst case scenarios can and do happen. The Deepwater Horizon blowout spewed – for three months straight – a total of approximately 170 million gallons of oil into the Gulf.  Recently, we’ve also learned the supposedly fail-safe blowout preventer (BOP) contains a design flaw that ensures that these mechanisms are not fail-safe. But under the old analysis, they are now deemed adequate. Why is Congress making offshore drilling less safe?

All of the Republicans voted to continue the tax breaks for Big Oil, except for two lone standouts: Rep. Ilena Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) broke from her Florida Republican colleagues and voted against more deepwater drilling in the Gulf and Rep. Walter Jones (R-NC) was the only Republican in the Carolinas to vote against expediting drilling off of Virginia’s coast.  Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD) from the Eastern Shore of Maryland supported drilling off the shore.  So did the entire Republican delegations of New Jersey (Reps. LoBiondo, Runyan, Smith, Garrett, Lance, and Frelinghuysen) and Virginia (Reps. Wittman, Rigell, Forbes, Hurt, Goodlatte, Cantor, Griffith, and Wolf).  Click here for the roll call on H.R. 1230.  Members of Congress who closed their eyes to the risk of drilling have or undoubtedly will have their campaign coffers rewarded for their myopia.  Members along the Mid-Atlantic Coast and Florida need to explain to their constituents why they are putting our fragile beaches in harm’s way by voting to provide even less protection than existed before the BP disaster.

There will be more votes soon as the House considers additional bills to lower environmental standards for off-shore drilling while radically expanding it along the entire U.S. coastline.  Up next week is H.R. 1229, a bill that forces the Administration to unreasonably rush the permitting process for drilling activities.  These permits are a final review opportunity for the regulatory agency to ensure everything is in place before an oil company drills thousands of feet below the surface of the sea.

Shortly after that, House will likely vote on H.R. 1231, the final bill in the “oil spill amnesia” trio.  This bill is designed to ensure that oil drilling occurs off the East Coast from Maine to North Carolina, off the coast of Southern California and in the Arctic Ocean and Bristol Bay. Under this bill, neither this administration nor any future one could ever decide to limit drilling in these areas because of economic or environmental concerns. At least half the remaining unleased territory would have to be put up for leasing each and every time no matter what had happened, no matter what could happen, no matter what legitimate concerns states or scientists or fishermen or federal officials might have. 

Oil companies have always been a powerful force in Washington and our dependence on oil has fueled their strength.  As I explained yesterday, the drilling will not now or likely ever, lower the price of oil.  "This drill drill drill thing is tired," said Tom Kloza, chief oil analyst at the Oil Price Information Service, which calculates gas prices for the motorist organization AAA. "It's a simplistic way of looking for a solution that doesn't exist." 

Our energy policy should be to lower our usage, become more energy efficient, and reduce our addiction to oil.  American families, and our planet, deserve no less.