Senators Aim to Repeal and Replace Obama's 5-Year Offshore Drilling Plan
Two of the senators who pushed an investigation into a suspected Interior Department cover-up of the White House fudging scientific conclusions to justify the gulf drilling moratorium are now fighting the administration's plan to stymie exploration and production on the outer continental shelf.
On the same day that the nation's attention was turned toward the ObamaCare ruling at the Supreme Court, the Obama administration was quietly issuing a five-year energy proposal that would place a virtual moratorium over 85 percent of the nation’s offshore areas.
Gulf Coast Sens. David Vitter (R-La.) and Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) fought back yesterday with a bill to repeal and replace, so to speak, the plan of Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and President Obama.
“Offshore energy production provides Americans with good-paying private-sector jobs; produces substantial royalties for the federal government and the states; reduces our trade imbalance; and puts an end to the huge wealth transfer from America to competitors oversees," Sessions said. "We need to take bold action to harness America's vast energy resources, but the Administration clearly has a different vision.”
Under the administration plan, from 2012-2017 the government would have to hold an annual lease sale in the western Gulf, which has already taken place. Lease sales in the central Gulf would begin in spring 2013, and new tracts in the eastern Gulf wouldn’t open up for lease sales until 2014.
The Vitter-Sessions bill opens more areas of the Gulf for production and includes production in the Pacific and Atlantic oceans, as well as in Alaska -- declared off-limits in Obama's plan.
Alaska's senators wrote Obama yesterday to protest the lack of an overall national energy strategy for the Arctic.
"The United States is the only Arctic nation which lacks such a formal strategy which ties together all the individual agency policies and visions," wrote Sens. Mark Begich (D) and Lisa Murkowski (R. "Developing an American Arctic strategy is especially timely now, with the hope for offshore oil and gas exploration in Alsaka's Arctic this summer, the number of cargo ships transiting the Bering Strait are increasing to new record highs and America's indigenous peoples are justifiably concerned with the impacts of these developments and changing conditions on their subsistence way of life."
In November, Vitter wrote to Salazar with the concern that the emerging five-year plan, requested by a group of senators last September, was tailored toward reduced energy consumption in America.
"I am concerned what you have proposed falls well short of the clear intent of the law. In fact, your current proposal reduces leasing by orders of magnitude when compared to the program you threw out in 2009," Vitter wrote.
"The 2010-2015 plan you threw out opened areas of the Atlantic, significant acreage in the Eastern Gulf of Mexico, four geologic basins off S. California, one geologic basin off N. California, and in Alaska the North Aleutian Basin and Cook Inlet. How does excluding all these areas in your proposed 2012-2017 plan best meet our national energy needs?" the senator asked Salazar. "You substituted a plan that would have provided approximately five lease sales a year, with a plan that provides about 2.5 lease sales per year. How does a schedule of sales at a pace about half of what you threw out help address America’s energy needs?"
The Vitter-Sessions legislation to instate a 5-year plan "more in line with the energy and economic needs of the United States," which has been referred to the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, was introduced on the same day that the Integrity Committee of the Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency met behind closed doors to probe the administration's Gulf drilling moratorium in the wake of the BP spill.
Vitter and Sessions, along with Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), asked the panel to investigate the Interior Department’s Acting Inspector General Mary Kendall, whom they say “failed to ensure an independent, impartial and complete investigation into the Administration’s offshore drilling moratorium and related activities.”
Kendall, the senators noted in their request, was reportedly involved in the so-called 30-Day Report, “which erroneously indicated that independent peer review experts endorsed the Administration’s six-month moratorium on deepwater drilling.” Then, Kendall conducted an oversight investigation of the report -- perhaps impeding the probe in the process.
The offshore leasing legislation is just another move by the gulf senators to right what they see as wrongs by the administration that have cost jobs in their home states and weakened energy security nationwide.
“Obama’s five-year lease plan for offshore production is only half of what the previous plan was - moving us in the complete wrong direction of where our energy production should be headed,” Vitter said. “The fall-off from the leasing and permitting actions of the Obama administration is very significant, and it’s projected to get even worse."
"Our bill is a common-sense approach that will increase the areas available to sell leases offshore, and of course will put a substantial amount of revenue back into the federal treasury.”