Daily Comet: Opposition to drilling plan continues
By Jeremy Alford, Daily Comet
BATON ROUGE — The U.S. House voted Wednesday to approve an alternative to President Barack Obama's five-year oil and gas leasing plan for the Gulf of Mexico.
With the traditional August recess beginning in just over a week's time and elections slated for November, the House version and another set of dueling plans in the Senate aren't expected to gain any additional traction in the coming months.
The House bill, dubbed the "Congressional Replacement of President Obama's Energy-Restricting and Job-Limiting Offshore Drilling Plan," calls for 13 Gulf lease sales through 2017 beginning this fall.
The administration's plan calls for 12 lease sales in the Gulf during the same period. It also outlines lease sales for Arctic waters, but shutters activity on the Atlantic and Pacific coasts.
The House voted 253-170 to advance the alternative plan sponsored by Natural Resources Chairman Doc Hastings, a Republican from Washington.
All local congressmen voted in favor of the House plan, including Reps. Bill Cassidy, R-Baton Rouge; Jeff Landry, R-New Iberia; and Steve Scalise, R-Metairie.
"It schedules 29 lease sales throughout America for the next five years, including for the Gulf of Mexico," Cassidy said. "It reopens drilling sites the president closed."
It has been forecasted that the bill could potentially generate $600 million in revenues and create tens of thousands of jobs.
"With gas prices fluctuating and uncertainty in the global energy market, America should focus on developing its own resources," Cassidy said. "We will continue to press the president to embrace energy independence through the development of domestic oil and gas. Doing so is right for our economy and our security."
Scalise has been campaigning against the president's plan for weeks and arguing it would close off 85 percent of the Outer Continental Shelf to domestic energy exploration.
"By saying no to exploration in the OCS, President Obama has also said no to thousands of American jobs and he also made our country more dependent on Middle Eastern oil," he said in a news release.
Landry, meanwhile, gave a speech on the House floor this week and asked lawmakers to recognize that the alternative plan merely allows the federal government to review more property for leasing.
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said the administration is relying on "targeted leasing" in its plan, which means smaller areas of possible exploration that are expected to deliver big payouts based on the best available science and technology.
Salazar said the administration's plan is scheduled to be implemented in early September and is undergoing a 60-day review by Congress.
When it was first released last month, oil and gas lobbies complained it didn't open up enough areas to exploration, and environmental groups wanted to see more safety regulations and less drilling opportunities included.
Louisiana's two U.S. senators also filed their own bills this week addressing Obama's leasing plan.
Sen. Mary Landrieu, a New Orleans Democrat, has introduced the Offshore Petroleum Expansion Now Act, or OPEN Act, to provide a "common-sense alternative to the administration's proposed 2012-2017 Outer Continental Shelf drilling plan."
As proposed, it would add an additional dozen lease sales to the president's plan.
It would also allow any state with energy production off its coast to receive 37.5 percent of all revenues from certain leases and eliminates the revenue cap that exists on this money.
"This legislation would replace the administration's shortsighted five-year plan for drilling in the OCS, and instead allow the U.S. to tap into the vast oil and gas potential off our coasts," Landrieu said.
More importantly, "this bill includes revenue sharing for coastal states that produce essential energy resources for our country, something that is lacking in other drilling legislation," she added.
Another bill filed this week by U.S. Sen. David Vitter, a Metairie Republican, would remove energy development agencies and functions from the U.S. Department of the Interior and move them to a revamped U.S. Department of Energy.
The Interior Department manages oil and gas development offshore and on federal lands while also overseeing land conservation efforts.
Vitter said "this department has focused on pursuing its conservation mission at the expense of facilitating responsible energy production that would help America become more energy independent."
The bill, among other aspects, would allow the energy secretary to modify or reject the Interior Department's five-year leasing plan.
Earlier this month, Vitter introduced a separate instrument that would simply revise the five-year plan to further open other areas in the Gulf and permit production in areas of the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, as well as Alaska.