October 1, 2012 by Russ Baker
Recently, Gulf area legislators have been pushing to get their states a larger share of government income from offshore drilling. We’re told that they need the extra revenue to improve flood protection. But more is afoot here, and it deserves scrutiny.
First, here’s the background, from the Los Angeles Times:
Severe flooding from Hurricane Isaac has prompted a new effort by Gulf Coast lawmakers to secure a larger share of federal offshore drilling revenue to fund projects such as flood protection.
But the idea faces opposition from lawmakers who say it would siphon away money needed to pay Uncle Sam’s bills.
Sen. Mary L. Landrieu (D-La.) stoked the debate this week by appealing to President Obama during his visit to the storm-battered area to support letting states share 37.5% of federal revenue from energy production off their coasts…..
Fair enough. But there’s a missing piece of this, about who benefits most. And it’s not the public.
Flood control work generates a ton of local income. It creates jobs. Channeling a larger share of the federal share of drilling income into the local area, you give residents a reason not to oppose continued drilling. Of course, these are the same people whose environment has been so badly harmed, perhaps permanently, by the risky practices of offshore production.
In other words, the very same people facing massive economic dislocation, the devastation of their ecosystem, and related chronic illness are being given a reason to put up with even more potential problems in the future.
Why shouldn’t the money from drilling go directly to the public to alleviate the harm done to it—and to develop alternative energy sources to reduce our dependency on the dangers increasingly associated with extraction of fossil fuels?
Actually, the region already gets plenty for harm remediation related to the BP spill.
One possible source of new money: the fines of as much as $21 billion that BP is expected to pay for the 2010 Gulf Coast oil spill. Congress recently voted to steer 80% of the penalties to Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas to help restore coastal ecosystems and rebuild regional economies.
But Landrieu is seeking additional money from offshore drilling, noting that inland states such as Colorado and Wyoming receive about half the revenue from drilling on federal land. “Coastal states should receive a similar allotment so they can engage these funds in flood protection,” she said in a letter to Obama.
She is among a bipartisan group of lawmakers sponsoring legislation that would let states receive 37.5% of all federal offshore drilling revenue. The idea has gained the backing of pro-production lawmakers who see it as a way to build public support for expanded offshore energy exploration that would reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil.
There it is—in paragraph NINE. Should be in the first paragraph, and should be in the headline. Instead, it is buried under the bland headline
CONGRESSIONAL FORECAST: FIGHT OVER COASTAL FLOOD PROTECTION FUNDS
…which resulted in almost no one paying any attention to this story, dated September 6—and to what is really going on.
Of course, contrary to what the Los Angeles Times asserts, the real reason the lawmakers support the move is NOT their concern to reduce dependence on foreign oil. It is to increase our tolerance for risky domestic drilling.
If you doubt there’s more to it, consider who feathers Sen. Mary Landrieu’s nest. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, the vast majority of her campaign contributions from 2007-2012 ($2.5 million) came from law firms, lobbyists, and the oil & gas industry. Guess who is one of the biggest clients of law firms and lobbyists? The oil & gas industry. It’s a safe bet that without doing that industry’s bidding, Mary Landrieu is toast. So she has to promote measures like this that do harm to the public interest and produce more profits for the dominant industry in her area.
It’s not that Mary Landrieu is a good or a bad person, any more than any of her Gulf Coast colleagues, of both parties, who also support this move. It’s that the system is so dirty. And that the public doesn’t have a media that can afford to just tell it to us straight—in such a way as to make us care, and make us want to actually do something about it.
Bet that, without public understanding of what is at stake, the very people who have a reason to fight against more offshore drilling in the gulf will be out there arguing for it.