- The Washington Times - Friday, March 4, 2011


At a time when the federal government should be doing everything possible to create jobs, lower the federal deficit and spur economic development across the nation, Washington policymakers instead seem intent on playing “politics as usual.” The latest example of this Washington pastime can be seen in a series of decisions recently made by the Obama administration to restrict access to the abundant oil and gas resources off our nation’s shores while at the same time fast-tracking environmental reviews of potential offshore wind development along the Atlantic coast.

The administration should be given kudos for promoting offshore wind, as it is an important piece of America’s “all-of-the-above” energy plan. However, this announcement will do nothing to offset the surge in oil, gasoline and diesel prices that American drivers are coping with and will be viewed by many as just another inside-the-Beltway political exercise. With world energy demand expected to rise by 49 percent over the next two decades and U.S. demand slated to increase by 14 percent, it is obvious that we need a clear and responsible path forward to use all forms of energy if we have any chance of ensuring that American consumers will have access to affordable and reliable energy in the future.

Given that wind, oil and gas projects must go through the same evaluation process under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), it is misguided to simplify environmental reviews for wind-energy projects in the Atlantic while further complicating the NEPA process for fossil-fuel production on the outer continental shelf (OCS). It is shortsighted of the administration to pave the way for offshore wind leases in the Atlantic but to add layers to offshore permitting by ensuring that more time-intensive and litigation-friendly environmental reviews will be the rule for domestic offshore energy production.

With estimates suggesting that total U.S. oil production will decline by 13 percent in 2011, in large part owing to the “permit freeze” in the Gulf of Mexico, this production slowdown and the nation’s corresponding fuel price increases could not come at a worse moment for the economy and American consumers. Although the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEMRE) just announced the first deep-water permit approval in the Gulf of Mexico last week, we still have many more steps to take before production activity will return to the region.

During a time of high unemployment and continued turmoil in the Middle East, these misguided decisions highlight the shortfall of our nation’s energy policy. Rather than restricting access to homegrown, domestic energy sources and adding bureaucratic layers to the permitting process, we need instead to consider the benefits of thoughtfully and safely exploring America’s offshore areas for the sake of our national security and independence from foreign energy sources.

Recent estimates indicate there could be as much as 3.8 billion barrels of oil and 21.5 trillion cubic feet of natural gas in the eastern Gulf and another 3.8 billion barrels of oil and 15.1 trillion cubic feet of natural gas along the Atlantic coastline between Delaware and Florida. However, until our leaders are willing to use America’s innovation, drive and technology to access the nation’s abundant supplies responsibly, all of that American energy will be kept locked away, continuing our dangerous dependence on some of the most unstable and unfriendly regions of the world to keep our economy running.

With the U.S. Department of Energy estimating that oil may hit $110 per barrel by the end of year, it is clear the administration cannot continue to keep America’s resources under lock and key. As it happens, the BOEMRE is taking public input on the upcoming environmental review for the entire 2012-17 federal offshore oil and gas leasing program. We can only hope that through this effort, the administration will set forth a clear and reasonable path forward for exploration and production in the Gulf of Mexico and off the Alaskan coast.

Now is the time to leverage America’s wealth of natural resources and promote a balanced approach to improve the direction of our national energy policy. It is time to stop the Washington hypocrisy and instead encourage and support all sources of domestic energy.

David Holt is president of Consumer Energy Alliance.



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