Smoke and mirrors on offshore drilling

The energy bill passed by the U.S. House of Representatives this week ought to be titled, “The Democratic Cover Bill.” Its aim seems to be to allow those who voted for it — primarily Democrats — to tell their constituents, “See, I support offshore drilling.”

Unfortunately, the bill that passed Tuesday night would allow offshore drilling along U.S. coasts only outside a 50-mile buffer zone. Over 80 percent of the recoverable oil resources in the Outer Continental Shelf would be off-limits under the bill, and one of the largest natural gas deposits in the Gulf of Mexico is only 25 miles offshore.

At least the House bill is better than the so-called “Gang of 20” plan. That proposal would allow offshore drilling — outside a 50-mile buffer — only in parts of the Gulf of Mexico and off the coasts of Georgia, Virginia and the Carolinas. Like the House bill, the Gang of 20 plan is designed to make it appear members of Congress are doing something to expand offshore drilling when they are really doing next to nothing.

Don’t blame the Democrats exclusively for that measure, however. The Gang of 20 is a bipartisan group, led by John McCain buddy Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican.

The Gang’s plan would actually increase problems for offshore drilling by making the current prohibition on drilling permanent along most U.S. coastlines.

Both the House bill and the Gang of 20 plan would boost taxes on the oil and gas industry, and are larded up with money for renewable energy, which already gets considerable funding from earlier measures passed by Congress.

On this issue, even more than for oil shale as mentioned above, the best thing Congress can do is nothing. If it takes no
action, the current ban on offshore drilling will expire Oct. 1, and vast new coastal areas can be opened to energy exploration and production.


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