The U.S. Interior Department has already proposed undermining regulations adopted in the aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe, and signs are pointing to a vast expansion of offshore areas open to oil and gas drilling.
Energy industry insiders and the Trump administration laud these developments. In a recent statement, Robert L. Bailey of the Institute for Energy Research attributed opposition to "green hysterics."
Yes, established environmental organizations oppose relaxation of the rules and opening vast new offshore areas to exploration and eventually drilling. For good reasons.
But if anyone accurately assigns a color to political opposition to the rule changes and massive expansion, it should be purple — because there is both Republican and Democratic resistance.
After the safety-rule changes were announced by the office of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, two members of Congress — Rep. Vern Buchanan, a Florida Republican, and Rep. Nanette Diaz Barragan, a California Democrat — filed the Safe COAST Act.
The bill seeks to codify the Oil and Gas Production Safety Systems and Well Control rules that were methodically adopted during the Obama administration. The rules, designed to protect energy-industry workers and the marine environment, were based in large part on recommendations from the credible, bipartisan National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling.
Congress should quickly pass the act, before the revised rules go into effect Dec. 27.
The eruption of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig, about 40 miles off the coast of Louisiana, killed 11 workers on the platform and spewed at least 210 million gallons of crude into the Gulf of Mexico for nearly three months. The harm to the environment, all the way down the Florida West Coast, was both immediate and enduring. The economic losses in tourist-based economies were in the billions.
It's true, as the Institute for Energy Research and its supporters in gas and oil assert, that the industry has taken steps to improve safety.
But when former U.S. Sen. Bob Graham, who co-chaired the commission, Buchanan and others insist the Interior Department's rules are insufficient (Buchanan called them "reckless and unacceptable"), we will side with them.
In the meantime, another huge challenge looms: Zinke has floated the idea that his department will dramatically expand exploration and eventually drilling. Some insiders think the secretary will seek to open 90 percent of submerged offshore lands; currently, 94 percent are protected.
Such a radical move would likely expose more Gulf waters and federal lands nearer Florida to exploration — a policy long opposed by leaders of both major parties in Florida. Earlier this year, 24 of Florida's 27 members of Congress — 12 Democrats and 12 Republicans — signed a letter asking Zinke to exempt nearshore waters from expansion. (A constitutional amendment overwhelmingly approved this month by voters put Florida waters off-limits to drilling.)
The opposition to the rule changes and likely expansion of drilling isn't a scheme by radical environmentalists; it is the longstanding stance of Floridians across the political spectrum.
REPRINTED FROM THE PANAMA CITY NEWS HERALD