(Courtesy of NASA)
Living on Earth's Jeff Young reports on the energy fight that's consumed Congress. In a dramatic reversal, Democratic leaders are giving ground to Republicans pushing a pro-drilling agenda. It could mean the end of the nearly 30-year moratorium on offshore drilling.
GELLERMAN: Sex, drugs and mineral rights -- As the US congress debates an historic
expansion in off-shore drilling, federal investigators say a dozen senior government officials responsible for collecting corporate royalties from drilling and mining on public property were involved in widespread corruption, including kickbacks from companies -- and yes, sex and drugs.
Jeff Young, Living on Earth’s Washington correspondent, has been tracking both the oil drilling debate and the oil money scandal - and Jeff, the Inspector General’s report makes the Interior Department’s Minerals Management Service sound like a frat party gone wild.
YOUNG: Y’know, Bruce, I think a lot of people suspected that government
was in bed with oil companies - but that was a metaphor, right? Well, according to this inspector general report, some government employees had sexual relationships with oil company employees, others took gifts and cut sweetheart deals.
Now, this is the office in the Interior Department that oversees leases and collects royalties when companies drill on public land or waters. They take in about ten billion a year. But this report is just the latest in controversy for them. The agency’s failed to collect billions - that’s with a b - in royalties, and we’ll hear a lot more about it when the inspector general testifies before a congressional panel Thursday.
GELLERMAN: Which, ironically is just about the same time that Congress could vote on this new proposal to expand offshore drilling. Tell us about that.
YOUNG: That’s right. Energy - especially the price of gas – it’s THE issue in Congress right now. And it’s looking like the moratorium that has kept new oil rigs off most of the US coastline for nearly 30 years could be near an end.
[MAN SAYING “YOU LOOK REAL GOOD”; TALKING]
YOUNG: House Republicans started the new session of Congress with a gathering on the Capitol steps to celebrate their success in pushing a pro-drilling message.
BOEHNER: We want a vote on the all-of-the-above American energy plan.
[CLAPPING AND CHEERING]
YOUNG: That’s Republican House Leader John Boehner. His proposal includes some support for renewable energy, like extended tax credits for solar and wind and tax breaks for energy efficient cars. But the bulk of the Republican plan favors fossil fuels: government support for oil from western shale, and turning coal to liquid fuels. And the Republicans’ centerpiece is a dramatic expansion of oil and gas drilling.
BOEHNER: Yes, we oughta have more American-made oil and gas. Thank you.
[CLAPPING; MAN SAYING “GO TO WORK”]
YOUNG: It didn’t take long to get a response from environmentalists.
YOUNG: Activists nearby nearly drowned out the Republican speakers.
[CHANTING “CLEAN ENERGY NOW”]
YOUNG: It was the first skirmish in what’s become an all-out election season battle over what energy path the nation should take. Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi emerged from a contentious two hour meeting with her fellow Democrats.
PELOSI: I come from that caucus very energized by what our members had to say. Pun intended.
YOUNG: Some Democrats urged her to keep the 27-year-old moratorium on off shore drilling intact. Others feared the outrage over gas prices will hurt their re-election chances. Pelosi’s solution was a major reversal of her opposition to offshore drilling. She now proposes allowing rigs 50 miles from a state’s coast if that state approves. That would essentially end the moratorium. But Pelosi pairs that with measures that could shift the country toward cleaner energy. Her energy package would end some seven billion dollars’ worth of oil industry tax breaks and force companies to pay outstanding royalties. That money would go instead to extending tax credits for renewable energy. And it calls for fifteen percent of the nation’s electricity to come from sources like wind, solar and geothermal.
PELOSI: Want to drill in the Outer Continental Shelf? We want our royalties. No more subsidies for you. We want those subsidies and those royalties for renewable energy resources for a better future – energy future – for our country. And it will come down to this, it will come down to this when it comes to energy: Whose side are you on? The side of the American consumer and taxpayer or big oil?
YOUNG: Environmentalists were disappointed, but some like Sierra Club director Carl Pope tried a positive spin.
POPE: Well, I think we all got caught a little flat-footed and were a little slow. But I think what Pelosi’s done is to call the bluff, and say “Okay, you want all of the above, you can vote on all of the above.”
YOUNG: Republican House Leader Boehner says Pelosi’s offer is not enough. He’d like to open all coastlines and offer states a larger share of revenue as an enticement to allow drilling.
BOEHNER: What they’re trying to do is they’re trying to pull a hoax on the American people. Something that looks like an energy plan, but does nothing about more oil and gas or American-made energy.
YOUNG: Ordinarily this is the point where the parties would seek compromise, but there’s nothing ordinary about this election season session of Congress. And compromise seems unlikely. Republicans are loath to give up on a winning issue. Democrats don’t want to bargain now because they expect to pick up more seats in the election. But there is a deadline of sorts looming. The moratorium on offshore drilling will expire at the end of the month unless it is renewed on a spending agreement, the same spending agreement that’s needed to keep government functioning.
Anna Aurelio of the conservation group Environment America says Republicans could block a renewal of the moratorium if they’re willing to shut down government services.
AURELIO: And in the end I think it’s going to come down to a game of chicken. Is President Bush and other allies of big oil going to threaten to shut down the government over big oil’s drilling agenda? That’s the big question.
YOUNG: Republican leaders aren’t taking openly about that yet, but they clearly feel their offshore drilling argument is gaining ground.
For Living on Earth, I’m Jeff Young, in Washington.
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