By U.S. Representative Glenn ‘GT’ Thompson
Pennsylvanians view the destruction and mess in the Gulf of Mexico with unimagined distress. Every photo of a pelican mired in brown glop elicits a visceral pain. We hurt for the region, the people, the environment and the economy.
The responsible party must be held accountable. Every bit of oil –every tar ball—needs to be cleaned up to have any hope of saving environmentally sensitive areas. Those who have lost their livelihood must be made whole. I had a chance to question Kenneth Feinberg, the person appointed by the President to control the $20 billion BP escrow fund. He appeared before my Committee on Small Business last week and explained that about 1,000 people are now processing claims in the Gulf, but that he will increase that number, streamline the process and allow electronic processing of claims. I believe he is on the right track.
We have to narrow down what went wrong and ensure no other deep water rig suffers the same fate. Procedures must be in place to prepare for the eventuality of another type of accident, to control the consequences. I took part in an Education and Labor Committee hearing on worker health and safety from the oil rig to the shoreline in June. The Minerals Management Service (MMS) is responsible for safety of the oil rigs in the Gulf. Our hearing examined whether the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) should have some jurisdiction if MMS is not doing a proper job.
All of the discussions of what went wrong and how we can prevent similar tragedies in the future are appropriate and should continue until we have answers and solutions.
But the administration’s decision to put a moratorium on deepwater oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico is not the answer. In fact, a federal judge last month struck down the six-month ban on deep-water drilling imposed by the Department of the Interior and also refused the government’s request for a stay of his order. U.S. district Judge Martin Feldman wrote: “Are all airplanes a danger because one was? All oil tankers like Exxon Valdez? All trains? All mines? That sort of thinking seems heavy-handed and rather overbearing.”
The administration is still appealing their case to a higher court and the Department of the Interior is looking for a new way to craft the moratorium that might be more acceptable to the Court.
In a tragedy like this, you can’t attempt to fix one part of the economy by paying the fishermen, the boatmen and others, while killing another part of the economy: the 150,000 rig and drilling support workers in the Gulf Coast.
We are nowhere near a position where we can cut off production of oil in this country. But this tragic accident has led some to ask for a total ban on offshore drilling. Rather than turn us to renewable energy, this scenario will simply make us more dependent on foreign oil.
This week the Heritage Foundation looked at the economic impact of a total offshore drilling ban and concluded it would pull the rug out from the economy’s incipient recovery. Their figures are as follows: If a total ban on offshore drilling went into effect in 2011, in less than 25 years Americans would see national income drop by $5.5 trillion, total costs of imported oil would rise by $737 billion, the average consumption expenditures for a family of four would be reduced by $2,381 per year and exceed $4,000 in 2035, and job losses would exceed 1.5 million.
I believe that Congress should not use this tragedy to legislate against the use of carbon-based fuels. Today, 85 percent of our energy comes from such fuels: coal, natural gas and oil. We can’t switch to other forms overnight because they don’t exist, it will be decades until they do and attempting to do so will cause a huge blow to our economy.
I am behind an energy policy that promotes energy security, job creation, and a cleaner environment. It is time to develop our nuclear capabilities and expand into more renewable and alternative sources of energy. We need all of these sources and now is not the time to cut one completely out of our system.