- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 22, 2010

A rat snake, the first foot of its endless slither raised in hot pursuit, rounded me up and out of a Mississippi cypress swamp; a threat-

ened Louisiana black bear graciously bared tooth and claw as fair warning before charging; a Louisiana bush pilot nearly scared me back to prayer admitting his two-seater was held together by an alligator hide (one he himself had wrestled from life) and some chewing gum - and the “son of a b still flies!”

I love the Mississippi Delta. It’s where this erstwhile liberal greenie began her education in real-world conservation - the kind most often tagged “community-based.” But the voice of the Delta is missing from the environmental-liberal-administration response to the Gulf oil spill, no matter how loud those Cajuns shout. They can hold their “rallies for economic survival”; their governors and mayors and community activists can pound the bully pulpit till the cows come home. We know better.

The overlords of all that is right with the world have a rationale for taking down the last third of the Delta’s economy left standing: Suspending (or better yet, by the lights of some environmentalists, “banning”) offshore drilling is a necessary intervention in America’s oil “addiction,” a vital component in extracting a climate bill from Congress, a wise precaution against another once-in-40-years spill.


This is what Bill Maher, pipsqueak of righteousness, had to say about it: “F*** your jobs. If your job is in some industry that’s killing things, maybe you are in the wrong line of work.” Then, he advised the roughnecks to reform their oil-besotted machismo and build offshore windmills in the windless Delta. Maybe the opinion industry should start to examine its own toxicity.

If America is lucky, we might see one wind facility completed off the reliably windy coast of Cape Cod before the end of President Obama’s second term - if he’s lucky. But only if the nearby residents, including Robert F. Kennedy Jr., stop bucking it. But, hey, offshore wind, that solves the problem. Shut down those oil rigs, rednecks. Move to Martha’s Vineyard - they are hanging out the welcome sign.

With less overt spleen than Mr. Maher exercised but with equal utopian pandering, environmental groups erase all mention of the damage to the working class from their push to stop drilling. Granted, the formerly pilloried fishing industry is now valorized, but they know environmental triangulation when they see it: Today’s starving victim is tomorrow’s solvent villain.

The International Energy Agency’s latest report predicts that even in the midst of a global energy-technology revolution, it will take 40 years for the United States to drop its oil usage by 60 percent. That’s how long it will take to transform the light-auto fleet alone. This is not a matter of turning off the spigot and, snap, we are in the wizarding world of Harry Potter, where buses grow thinner on whimsy’s demand. For the next several decades, we will need oil, especially in rural America, where public transportation is not an answer and cattle, hay and fish require big motors to do big jobs.

Our current oil supply from the Gulf provides us with 30 percent of our needs, and 80 percent of Gulf oil comes from deep-water wells. If not from the Gulf, the oil will be imported from less regulated waters off the coasts of Africa and Brazil. Nigeria has had a major oil spill every year since 1969. Greater dependence on imports will increase volatility at the gas pump, hastening our inevitable return to that economy-squelching number - $4 a gallon.

In the meantime, a blue-ribbon panel of engineers, consulted by the White House and sandbagged by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, does not support a moratorium on existing drilling because it increases rather than decreases risk. Among the technical reasons: Stopping and temporarily capping wells introduces unnecessary risk. It supports a temporary moratorium on new leases, not on existing ones.

The environmental community has demonstrated that the strategic and necessary expansion of oil and gas drilling required to arrive at what was once the Kerry-Graham-Lieberman last-chance climate bill would have been illusory: whittled down under the weight of pressure politics, dodged by agencies, challenged in court. I am left wondering: Does the environmental community really want a climate bill?

Protecting the environment follows prosperity. Rich countries can afford it; poor countries slash and burn their way through the rain forest in their backyard. Trampling working- and middle-class Americans while demonizing their modest claims on a decent life as “addiction” is a surefire way to lose traction on the hard solutions, those impure compromises in this impure world. But why am I telling environmentalists that? Look around; the only group extracting a living from the Delta’s environment these days is Big Green.

Joan Chevalier is a speechwriter in New York City.