Tuesday, September 23, 2008


Remember that Speaker Pelosi shut down the House of Representatives without giving it a chance to vote on whether to permit drilling for oil? She had the lights turned out the camera turned off. But a bunch of Republicans stayed behind and debated the issue, day after day, during the five weeks the House was on paid vacation, and ten senators of both parties worked on a compromise. President Bush lifted his presidential moratorium on off-shore drilling. The Congress’s moratorium expires on September 30.

Lots of Americans must have contacted their representatives asking them to hold a special session and vote, up or down, on drilling. It had an effect. Speaker Pelosi changed her plans. She announced she would “be open to voting on a drilling compromise.”

The writing of the drilling compromise was finished and the bill was introduced Monday night, September 15, at 9:45 p.m. (The name of the bill is “Comprehensive American Energy Security and Consumer Protection Act,” H.R. 6899.) Though no committee or representative had seen it, it was debated on Tuesday, the 16th. Democrats said the 290-paged bill was “bipartisan,” though no amendments or substitutes were allowed, and no Republican (or Democrat?) had even seen it.

The vote was 236 yes to 189 no. All Democrats except 13 voted yes including Christopher Murphy, 5th District, Connecticut . Fifteen Republicans voted yes including Christopher Shays, 4th District, Connecticut . According to Mr. Murphy’s e-mail of September 17, the Republican “party’s leadership decided at the last minute it didn’t want to share a victory on energy policy with the folks across the aisle this year.” A victory? One Republican—we watched much of the debate on C-SPAN—called it a “no-drill-bill.

Elsewhere Mr. Murphy says, referring to numerous energy bills the House has been discussing, “Opponents refused to vote for any energy legislation that did not open up America ’s shorelines to more oil drilling.” And this one did not. For example,

No drilling in ANWR, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. In addition, permanently closed to drilling is Georges Bank fishing grounds, located off the North Atlantic states and Canada.

No drilling within 50 miles of the coast. (The oil reserves are most plentiful closest to the shore. There are gigantic reserves of oil offshore.)

Drilling is permitted on the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS), which is 50-100 miles from the Atlantic and Pacific Ocean coastlines. But the bill requires the permission to drill of the closest coastal state, which “opts in” to allow leasing off its coastline by enacting a state law. As there generally is opposition, a state needs the incentive of royalties. . The bill does not permit the coastal states to get any revenue..

“Use it or lose it” is often heard in this debate. It refers to leases available or held by oil companies on federal government-owned land. But drilling is blocked on every one of the 746 existing leases by lawsuits initiated by environmental organizations, the Sierra Club, EarthJustice, and others. Drilling of leases is also blocked in the Outer Continental Shelf. Not one offshore lease has escaped litigation, The oil companies must pay the government annually for the leases.

A frequent argument (which Mr. Murphy repeats) is that the drilling would not produce much oil, indeed “not a drop in the bucket compared to world supply.” If the world’s supply is relevant, isn’t the U.S. ’s supply more relevant? If so, he should add in the U.S. ’s supply of coal, of which the U.S. has more than the rest of the world combined. A statement from an oil expert at Senator Jeff Session’s committee meeting on the 18th, Thursday—the Senate will have its own bill—made the statement that drilling would produce enough oil to make it unnecessary to import oil for the next 40 years. There are 18 billion barrels proved reserve and 83 billion barrels believed to exist.

Additional provisions of H.R.6899 are:

Sale of at least ten percent of the oil from the strategic petroleum reserve (SPR) is required.

Lifts the moratorium on oil-shale leasing in Colorado , Utah , and Wyoming if those states pass laws permitting it.

No provision for nuclear energy. China , India , and Dubai are building 30, 17, and 14 nuclear energy plants respectively, not because they need them but so that they can export their oil to us.

Roll back $18 billion in oil tax breaks to fund renewable energy and conservation.

Several green housing initiatives are provided, as well as Residential Energy Efficient Block Grant Programs totaling $2.5 billion. Also transit projects including, one commentator observes, $1.2 million to extend New York City subways.

Mr. Murphy, representing the Democrats, says the bill is “comprehensive.” But it has no refineries, no lawsuit reform, no nuclear energy, no development of shale oil resources, no clean coal, no royalties, increased taxes on oil firms. Republicans say that this bill is a hoax, doesn’t produce any energy, and is more about politics than policy. Take your pick.

By Natalie Sirkin

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