Don’t Blame BP


The Republicans Voted For Offshore Drilling Before They Voted Against It

Newt Gingrich and I don’t often find ourselves in agreement, but when he said that the problem today was not the big oil companies, I find myself in total lockstep with the man. Of course, he said that in 2008, and at that time he was trying to lead those oil companies, and the U.S. itself, into an almost unrestricted allowance of offshore oil drilling.

But he’s completely right about whom not to blame. British Petrol (BP) may be the current punching bag, but they don’t deserve that honor. They were only following the wishes of this country’s shortsighted political leaders, those politicians who insist on moving forward with offshore drilling, almost without limits, in complete disregard of any environmental consequences. And, let’s be honest, that’s almost the entire Republican Party. Rarely has responsibility for a policy been as clear as this one is.
Not so long ago, both Republicans and Democrats understood the environmental dangers of offshore drilling. A congressional moratorium adopted in the early 1980s banned most offshore oil production and exploration in the U.S., with the exception of waters off Alaska and in the western and central Gulf of Mexico.

But in the last few years Republicans have been spinning a different narrative. That new story completely ignored the dangers of offshore drilling, touting instead its benefits as a cure-all for the country’s oil and gas costs. In 2008 former Speaker Gingrich warned that if the Democrats did not go along with a bill to allow almost unlimited offshore drilling, the Republicans might completely shut down the government.

Do I exaggerate about the relationship of offshore drilling and official Republican policy? Let the politicians speak for themselves:


            *President George Bush, presidential candidate John McCain and VP candidate Sarah Palin all supported Congressional moves to lift the 27-year-old ban on oil exploration and drilling off U.S. shores. Said McCain: “We have to drill here and drill now — not wait and see whether there’s areas to explore, not wait and see whether there’s a package that needs to be put together, but drill here and drill now.”

           *Michael Steele, the head of the Republican Party regaled the 2008 Republican Convention in St. Paul, Minn., with his calls for offshore drilling. He got the whole convention floor to chant, “Drill, baby, drill.” For Steele, awareness of environmental dangers is not wisdom, it’s “political correctness.” “Do you want to put your country first,” he asked the convention, referring to our energy needs. “Then let’s make decisions about our security based on what keeps us safe and not on what’s politically correct.”

           *And how about Bobby Jindal, the current governor of Louisiana? Last year he urged the expansion of offshore drilling, calling for more drilling in federal waters even at a time when oil seeped into southeast Louisiana from 44 onshore and offshore oil spills. In 2006, then-Rep. Jindal sponsored a bill to eliminate the moratorium on offshore oil and gas drilling on the U.S. outer continental shelf  .

            * Republican-oriented think tanks don’t do any better. In 2008 the Heritage Foundation declared offshore oilrigs perfectly safe. “The impact of offshore drilling as a result of hurricane events in the [Gulf of Mexico Regional Office] have typically been minor due to the down-hole safety valves at wells and operating practices conducted by the oil and gas industry with respect to platforms and pipelines in advance of approaching hurricanes… ” The volume of oil spilled and impacts to shore from offshore infrastructure were categorized as “minor.” In other words, there’s been no disaster yet, so let’s move full-force ahead.

           *The Republican congressional delegation? In March of this year , 88 House Republicans sent a letter to Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar demanding that the Administration quit dragging its feet and approve new leases for offshore drilling. “Why, the letter asked, “is the Obama Administration sitting on its hands when expanding domestic production of energy in an environmentally safe way would create thousands of good paying jobs?” That idea of an environmentally safe way, incidentally, included the oil platform that now is pouring oil onto the Louisiana coast.

Here’s an optimist’s view of what might result from this tragedy. The Republican party will cease to ignore the environmental dangers of off-shore drilling, of air and water pollution and of climate change, and will join the effort to lead us all to a safer world.