Tag Archives: Politics

Offshore drilling plan moves quickly into the political arena

UPDATE: Jan 12

News was breaking yesterday as I completed this blog on offshore oil drilling. I doubt that anyone was surprised by the reaction of outrage that followed Secretary Ryan Zinke’s apparently offhanded and arbitrary decision to exempt Florida from an otherwise all-coast leasing plan.

All U.S. senators from New England states, Democrats and Republicans, signed onto legislation to exempt their states from the drilling plan, while U.S. Rep. David Cicilline, D-RI, says he has unanimous bipartisan support for a similar bill in the House. Now, if they move to include the rest of the East Coast and the West Coast in the bill, they might have enough votes to pass it. (See statement from Rep. David Cicilline.)

Meanwhile, Washington’s Sen. Maria Cantwell, the ranking member of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, set the stage yesterday for the inevitable lawsuits that will follow if Zinke maintains his present course of action. Cantwell said in a statement that Zinke may have violated the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act. Others have said that he may have violated the Administrative Procedures Act as well (Washington Examiner).

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The Trump administration’s announcement of an open season on offshore oil drilling all around the edges of the United States has put some congressional Republicans on the hot seat during a tough election year.

Opposition to the proposed oil leases along the East Coast is reflected in the negative comments from Republican governors Larry Hogan of Maine, Charlie Baker of Massachusetts, Chris Sununu of New Hampshire, Henry McMaster of South Carolina and Rick Scott of Florida. None want to see drilling anywhere off their shorelines.

“Of course I oppose drilling off of New Hampshire’s coastline,” Gov. Sununu said in a statement made to New Hampshire Public Radio.

Just days after Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke announced his plan to issue leases for oil and gas exploration and development nearly everywhere, he decided to let Florida off the hook — to the relief of Gov. Scott, who is said to be a close friend of the Trump administration.

Zinke’s exemption for Florida was announced in a tweet posted on Twitter, in which he called Scott “a straightforward leader that can be trusted.”

“President Trump has directed me to rebuild our offshore oil and gas program in a manner that supports our national energy policy and also takes into consideration the local and state voice,” Zinke tweeted. “I support the governor’s position that Florida is unique and its coasts are heavily reliant on tourism as an economic driver. As a result of discussion with Governor Scott’s (sic) and his leadership, I am removing Florida from consideration of any new oil and gas platforms.”

It appears that Zinke is admitting that oil and gas development can harm the local tourism industry. Needless to say, the other Republican governors also would like a piece of that “support” from Zinke, as reported in a story by Dan Merica of CNN News.

Meanwhile, on the West Coast, Democratic governors and many members of Congress also oppose the drilling plan — with the exception of Alaska, where Gov. Bill Walker supports expanded drilling anywhere he can get it — even into the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. I discussed the ANWR drilling proposal in Water Ways on Nov. 16, before approval of the Republican tax bill.

Democrats in Washington state’s congressional delegation are unified in their opposition to offshore drilling, and most of them support legislation that would take the entire matter off the table for good. They are joined in their opposition by Rep. Dave Reichert, a Republican from the Eighth District.

“This moves America in the wrong direction and has the potential to have a negative lasting effect on our oceans as well as the shorelines of states on these coasts,” Reichert said in a statement. “Our country is at the forefront of developing efficient and cost effective alternative energy technologies and we should continue to support innovation in this area.”

Congressional districts in Western Washington.
Graphic: govtrack

Jaime Herrera Beutler, a Republican who represents the Third District — including coastal areas in Southwest Washington — was a little more low-key.

“I don’t support offshore oil and gas exploration in states that don’t want it, and Washington’s citizens have never indicated any desire to have oil and gas activity off their coast,” she said in a Facebook post. “I’m not aware of any active plan to drill off Washington or Oregon, but I will act to protect our citizens and our coast if any such effort does arise.”

Other comments on the plan:

  • Letter in opposition (PDF 974 kb) from 109 U.S. representatives, including Washington’s Suzan DelBene, 1st District; Derek Kilmer, 6th District; Pramila Jayapal, 7th District; Dave Reichert, 8th District; Adam Smith, 9th District; and Denny Heck, 10th District.
  • Letter in opposition (PDF 997 kb) from 37 of the 50 U.S. senators, including Washington’s Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell.
  • Rep. Derek Kilmer, Sixth District: “For decades, Democrats and Republicans have agreed that opening our waters up to drilling would be shortsighted and wrong. Doing so could threaten our fisheries, shellfish growers, tourism, and jobs in other key sectors of our economy.”
  • Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell: “This draft proposal is an ill-advised effort to circumvent public and scientific input, and we object to sacrificing public trust, community safety, and economic security for the interests of the oil industry.”

With substantial opposition from all sides, the looming question is whether Congress will allow the leasing program to move forward before expiration of the existing five-year plan for offshore drilling (PDF 34 mb), which ends in 2022 and focuses mostly on offshore drilling in the Gulf of Mexico.

While the California Coast remains a key target for oil companies, it is unlikely that we will ever see oil rigs off the Washington Coast, no matter what happens with the leasing program. Oil and gas resources simply aren’t known to be there, according to all published data.

During the 1960s, 10 exploratory wells were drilled with no significant finds off the coast of Washington and Oregon, according to a 1977 report by the U.S. Geological Survey (PDF 10.2 mb). Some 14 other wells were drilled without result offshore near Vancouver Island in Canada. Many more onshore wells have been drilled without major success throughout the region.

In 2008, I explored the idea of offshore drilling in Washington state when the George W. Bush administration attempted to lift the offshore-drilling moratorium.

“We would probably be last, or next to last,” state geologist Ray Lasmanis told me in a story for the Kitsap Sun. “The geology is too broken up, and it does not have the kind of sedimentary basins they have off the coast of California.”

Officials told me at the time that even if oil companies were given free rein, they would not line up to drill off our coast.

“It is important to note that, at least here on the West Coast, that it will take more than lifting the congressional moratorium,” said Tupper Hull, spokesman for the Western States Petroleum Association. “In addition to state and local constraints, a number of marine sanctuaries would restrict development.”

Gov. Jay Inslee, who was a U.S. representative at the time, said offshore drilling was a diversion, because much better alternatives exist on land. Because of climate change, Inslee was pushing Congress to encourage renewable energy sources, as he continues to do today as governor.

“Drilling offshore,” he told me, “is doomed to failure. I’m not opposed to drilling. We accept massive drilling on federal land. But the danger is we’ll get wrapped around the minutia of the drilling issue … and we’re still going to be addicted to oil.”

The latest proposal by the Department of Interior is subject to public hearings, including one scheduled in Tacoma on Feb. 5. Check out the full schedule of 23 hearings.

Other related documents:

Environmental efforts, including Puget Sound, hanging in the balance

I must admit that I have an uneasy curiosity to see how Congress will manage programs that protect human health and the environment now that Republican legislators are in control of both the House and Senate with no concerns about a budget veto.

Photo: Matt H. Wade via Wikimedia

Most environmental laws and programs are the result of hard-fought compromise between Democrats and Republicans who somehow agreed on ideas to make the world a safer place for people and wildlife. Do Republican members of Congress really want to back away from those advances? Do they want to explain to their constituents why clean air, clean water and safe food are not as important as they once were?

I was fascinated to read that Republican senators and representatives in the Great Lakes states could be a key to saving federal funding for Chesapeake Bay — and, by the same token, Puget Sound, the Gulf of Mexico and other major restoration projects.

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Congress throwing away the keys to problem-solving

I have been waiting for a prominent person to step forward and compare the politics surrounding climate change to what Congress just went through with the government shutdown and debt limit. Just in time, out of the woodwork, comes former Vice President Al Gore with his droll approach to the subject.

“Congress is pathetic right now, Gore said during an interview on “Take Part Live.” He continued:

“There are some awful good people in Congress trapped in a bad system. The truth is our democracy has been hacked; big money now calls the shots. That may sound like a radical statement, but less and less to people who have been paying attention to what’s been going on there.

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Habitat-funding formula is sacred among supporters

Like a dark cloud, a fear of politics hangs over a program that allocates state money for projects that protect fish and wildlife habitat, build parks and trails and preserve farmland. Check out my story in yesterday’s Kitsap Sun, which relates methods of funding to a Bainbridge Island trails project.

A bit of history is needed to understand the controversy. In 1989, two prominent politicians, Republican Dan Evans and Democrat Mike Lowry, joined forces to create the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Coalition. The idea was to attract both government and private money to the best projects of their kind in the state.

The following year, the Legislature created a funding structure called the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program. The strength of the program, according to many supporters, is the enduring formula for allocating state dollars, first by category (PDF 12 kb), then by project through detailed evaluation criteria.

Because of the established criteria, the Legislature has avoided fights over whether to fund particular projects. Instead, the Legislature sets the statewide budget for the program, and expert committees score the projects based on established criteria.

On the 20th anniversary of the program in 2009, an editorial in the Seattle Times noted that some people doubted that the political marriage of this “odd couple” — Evans and Lowry — would last for the long run, but so far it has:

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Norm Dicks is dealt a new hand to play

U.S. Rep. Norm Dicks summed up his place in the next Congress by quoting former Seahawks coach Chuck Knox:

“You have to play the hand you are dealt.”

Norm Dicks

Norm Dicks, the Belfair Democrat, is well known for bringing home federal dollars to restore streams and estuaries throughout Puget Sound. Everywhere he goes, he’s patted on the back for the many restoration projects that seem to be improving conditions for fish and wildlife. After last week’s election, everyone from shellfish growers to Gov. Chris Gregoire must be wondering what will happen next to Puget Sound funding.

Norm told me after the election that he has always worked well with Republicans on the Interior and Defense appropriations subcommittees, the two bodies where he has recently served as chairman. (See my story in Sunday’s Kitsap Sun.) Before 2006, as ranking minority member of the Interior Appropriations Subcommittee, he helped launch an initiative to restore facilities in rundown national parks, an effort that continues to today.

Maybe Norm’s 34 years in the House gives him a special perspective, but he seems undaunted by House Republicans, who appear to be in no mood for major spending on programs like the national parks. To me, it looks like we’re going to have gridlock between the House, controlled by Republicans, and the Senate, controlled by Democrats.

Dicks wishes more voters nationwide would have recognized how many jobs were created by the federal stimulus package. He doesn’t think cutting taxes, as Republicans propose, will create many new jobs. And reducing the federal budget will cause layoffs — at least in government — with ripple effects in the economy.

On “60 Minutes” (9:42 into Part 1), correspondent Steve Kroft asked President Obama, “What can you do to create jobs that hasn’t already been done?”

Obama’s answer was not surprising:
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Bill Ruckelshaus ‘retires’ from PS Partnership

When I returned to work today after two weeks of vacation, I learned that Bill Ruckelshaus was “retiring” as chairman of the Leadership Council — the governing board for the Puget Sound Partnership.

It has always seemed to me that Ruckelshaus was the steady hand on the wheel as the Puget Sound Partnership moved through stormy seas. Certainly, Ruckelshaus deserves to retire after a long career of public service and business enterprise.

But wait. Bill does not retire the way you or I might. In a conversation this afternoon, I learned that he is preparing to lend a hand to the Puget Sound Foundation — the educational and private-fund-raising arm of the Puget Sound Partnership.

Oh, I said to him, with government funding drying up, you think you can go out and find private money to save Puget Sound?

He laughed. “It might be awkward to raise money as the chairman of a state agency,” he noted. The first step, he said, is to establish goals for how donations might be spent. Private donors generally want firm guidelines, he said.
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Norm Dicks and musings about political power

When I use the term “political power,” does it make you think of something good, bad or indifferent?

Like it or not, political power is what gets things done in our city councils, Legislature and Congress. Voting by qualified citizens is certainly one form of political power.

Whether Congress spends our money to fight wars or to restore the environment is a result of political power. Some would say we have no choice but to fight wars at key times in history. Others would argue that we have no choice but to save the Earth. But, of course, there are choices in how Congress spends our money.

I got to thinking about this after I wrote a story for today’s Kitsap Sun about U.S. Rep. Norm Dicks and his change in chairmanships in the House Appropriations Committee. Dicks will soon move from a position where he has a major say about environmental spending to a position where he will have a major say about Defense spending.

His predecessor on the Defense Appropriations Committee, Rep. John Murtha, held a reputation for wielding political power to bring federal projects to his home state of Pennsylvania.

Dicks enjoys a favorable reputation among environmentalists nationwide for his work on restoring national forests and national parks as well as his support for regulations to protect the environment. But Dicks is celebrated in his home state of Washington for his intense focus on our local forests and waterways.

That makes this Bremerton native a target for those who think our money is better spent on other things or not at all. I wonder how that perception will change when he becomes more focused on Defense issues, which attracts a more conservative constituency. That’s not to say that Dicks has not already wielded political power on defense issues, given the large number of military bases and defense-oriented companies in Washington.

For some reason, this very notion of political power seems a little distasteful, but it is how government gets things done — or not done. It is political power, after all, that the brings Republicans together in a solid block —without a single vote out of line — to block some of President Obama’s prize initiatives.

What actions would you like your government to take? As they say, political power is a little like sausage. We may not want to see the process that gets it done, but we can enjoy the result nonetheless.