Are House Republicans Waging a War on the Gulf?

While GRN was working late into the night with 49 other organizations to help develop an action plan for a healthy Gulf, House Republicans, the oil industry and their unquestioning supporters were up in DC, lobbing bombs at our beleagered basin.In both the House Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee and the House Committee on Natural Resources Republican leadership were going on the record to attack GRN’s priorities for a safe and restored Gulf of Mexico.It began with Appropriations Subcommitee Chair Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ) questioning the Corps of Engineers perceived prioritization of environmental restoration, specifically the $35.6 million in President Obama’s budget for Louisiana’s coastal wetlands crisis. With a likely pricetag of at least $14 billion, and fewer than 10 years to start reversing the tide of coastal landloss in a major way, that amount can look paltry next to the need, though it does represent a major commitment from the Administration. From the transcript, Chairman Frelinghuysen starts: I have a few questions for you. Madam Secretary, your budget request seems to place a very high priority on environmental projects, especially within the investigations account where the only new starts and the only completions are environmental projects.How did the Corps determine that these new starts for environmental projects are a higher cost benefit return to taxpayers and say a construction project like the Chickamauga Lock?After some back and forth on cost-benefit, Secretary Darcy reveals:Sir, the portion of our budget is about 18 percent of our budget this year that is on ecosystem restoration projects, 18 percent of our total budget. And I guess I wouldn’t characterize it as a shift, it is a priority, along with our navigation mission and as well our fund risk management mission. And we also think that in these ecosystem restoration projects we also are going to find other economic benefits so that they are weighed that way but they don’t have the — ecosystem restoration projects are value in this or are calculated in the same way because they don’t have a benefit to cost ratio as the other projects do, the construction projects.So, with 18% of the Corps budget going to the Everglades, the Chesapeake, the Gulf and Louisiana’s wetlands, and other similar projects, the Chairman has heartburn over it. After the amount of damage done to the nation’s environment due to the Corps prioritization of navigation, flood control, and expiditous granting of wetlands development permits, I’d say 18% is a bit low.The oil industry stepped into the spotlight when the House Committee on Natural Resources convened to attack the Obama administration, where the Gulf’s own Congressmen Jeff Landry (R-LA), John Femming (R-LA), and Steve Southerland (R-FL) brought on a number of oil industry representatives as well as Louisiana’s Secretary of the Department of Natural Resources, Scott Angelle, to push back against the rate of permitting and the new safety and environmental requirements issued by the Department of Interior agency in charge of off shore energy (BOEMRE).A little gotcha was played over the recommendations of the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill, which GRN support, with Representatives Markey (D-MA) and Holt (D-NJ), asking Secretary Angelle which recommendations he opposes, and the Secretary forced to admit he couldn’t point out any specific recommendations.And of course, the fallacy that U.S. oil prodution is the reason gas prices are increasing was featured prominently, with Chairman ‘Doc’ Hastings (R-WA) linking Obama’s policies to increased gas prices in his opening remarks, just before announcing his intentions to create a bill to push through Gulf drilling permits. Oil production hasn’t dropped yet (though it’s expected to over the next two years due to the slow down in new drilling activity in the Gulf).Little was said from the Republican side of the aisle about the BP drilling disaster and the subsequent loss of lives or the blows to fishing, tourism and the NATURAL RESOURCES of the Gulf. Without key recommendations of the Oil Spill Commission put to effect, the industry will not be ready for the next major accident. That accident will happen (we’re talking when, not if), but will we be more prepared for it? Will we have sorted out the use of toxic dispersants? Or have fire booms available? Or have skimmers that actually function in the real-world conditions of the Gulf? Or will the responsible party still be guarding against walrus casualties? Without action from Congress, not just theatrics, we won’t be any better prepared than we were April 20, 2010.Aaron Viles is GRN’s Deputy Director. You can follow him on twitter here.

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