Here’s the drill

Posted August 13th, 2008 by Sylvia S Tognetti and filed in Funk from the Swamp

I was a bit miffed that anyone would make a campaign issue out of opening up California and Florida to offshore drilling. As I recall*, drilling was suspended in those areas by Ronald Reagan, when Bush Sr. was running for president. The only credible explanation for stopping it in those places, and not in Alaska, which is much more critical from an ecological perspective than most of California – as beautiful as it’s coast is, was because California and Florida have more electoral votes. Property values probably also had something to do with it.

I’m not a budget wonk but, allow me to suggest another motive, besides satisfying the desires of the oil companies. Revenue from offshore oil and gas is the largest source of non-tax government revenue. Not that today’s disenchanted so-called “principled” conservatives have ever been concerned with government revenue.** However, once a Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) lease sale is included in the 5 year plan that MMS is required to develop, the projected revenue can be included in the federal budget. If this process is expedited, as MMS is clearly seeking to do, Bush – and the Republicans could present a “balanced budget” for the coming years, in time for the November election, even if the figures are wishful thinking. Even if they don’t get elected, the wrecking ball will have been set in motion to paralyze the next administration when the projections aren’t realized.

This kind of maneuvering is not without precedent. A bit of googling turned up this Sierra Club press release from October 2005 which states:

In addition, there will be a major vote, likely following the Columbus Day recess, on the fate of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and possibly on lifting the moratorium on off-shore oil drilling. Drilling proponents in Congress are trying to use the Budget process to advance these controversial issues. Congress has included anticipated revenues from lease sales in the Arctic in the Federal Budget Resolution, even though the revenue projections are inflated to 80 times the current average.

Google also turned up this bit of analysis by Richard Fineberg (pdf), pointing out that “If the entire $5.0 billion in [projected] lease bonus revenue is not realized, the federal portion of that shortfall must be added to the increase in the federal deficit caused by the reconciliation package.”

And MMS has already started preparing a new 5-year plan – for which it has requested comments by September 15, specifically asking:

Although OCS oil and gas leasing is typically conducted through an extensive, long-established process, are there alternative ways to ensure appropriate consultation and to streamline our leasing procedures? Should the OCS Lands Act be amended to allow changes in the 5-year plan without starting the process all over again in cases of acute supply or demand shift affecting national security?

In other words, expect an amendment to the OCS Lands Act to be attached to something Congress will have to vote on, in September or October, to legitimize amendments to the existing 5 year plan, that MMS is already hard at work on.

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*Disclosure: at that time, I was the research assistant for a committee and three panels at the National Academy of Sciences, that were engaged in a review of the Minerals Management Service Environmental Studies Program. After Bush Sr. was elected, that same committee was asked to determine whether the scientific information was adequate to support leasing decisions in California and Florida. It was not, and California and Florida have been off limits to new lease sales ever since. I have no idea whether there has been any change in the quality and relevance of studies undertaken since then but note that, at the time, the committee also made a point of highlighting numerous studies conducted by previous NAS committees, which had had little if any effect on program decisions. To its credit, MMS did actually sponsor some of the first studies regarding the contribution of onshore OCS facilities to the loss of Louisiana’s wetlands. Those were among the exceptions.

Now, if I could only remember the name of the MMS official who, in an offhanded comment, said that, if only there were another gas crisis, there would be no need to produce environmental studies because people would just want the gas… Which would back up what Naomi Klein is saying.

**For more on the ideology of “starving the beast”, there is an excellent discussion this week at the TPM book club regarding The Predator State – a new book by James K. Galbraith that I am adding to my reading pile, along with The Wrecking Crew by Thomas Frank.

One Response to “Here’s the drill”

  1. crf says:

    I tuned in, on a whim, to see the republican national convention. While McCain talked about opening new offshore areas to drilling, the camera turned to Bush Sr. His expression was quite emotionless, while all around people were clapping and cheering.

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