Offshore-drilling plan faces opposition

Offshore-drilling plan faces opposition

In the face of record-high gas prices, President Bush proposed last week that Congress lift its ‘7-year-old ban on offshore drilling, a position echoed by Republican presidential candidate John McCain.

According to the government, the 574 million acres of federal coastal water that are currently off-limits are believed to hold nearly 18 billion barrels of undiscovered, recoverable oil. In targeting the outer continental shelf for development — with ’60 acres of that area along the Atlantic Coast — the president, and McCain, have drawn the ire of a number of elected officials from this state.

Leading the charge is Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), who has introduced legislation to permanently ban drilling in the outer continental shelf. The senator told The Jewish Standard Monday that the "government has already leased 68 million acres to the oil companies," but that serious oil exploration "is largely not being pursued" in those areas.

"It’s a cynical effort by the ‘Oil White House’ … to reward pals in the oil and gas industry," said Rep. Steven Rothman (D-9) on Monday. "They already have more than enough on existing leases."

Rothman noted that it will take some 10 years after drilling for oil and gas to begin flowing, "only affecting the price by pennies on the gallon. It doesn’t address the immediate need for energy or for price reduction," he said. "It’s a continuation of a bad long-term energy policy … that encourages 19th-century oil and gas exploration instead of investing time and money in ‘1st-century technology."

"It will have no impact on pricing in the short run," said Gov. Jon Corzine, who spoke to the Standard during a recent press conference, nor, he said, "will it significantly affect supply and demand in the long run." According to the governor, a survey taken in the 1970s showed there was "little prospect" of finding oil in the area.

Pointing out that tourism is the second-largest driver of the New Jersey economy, Menendez said that an oil spill — whether occurring locally or in adjacent areas — "would have a serious effect" on New Jersey.

In e-mail correspondence with the Standard, Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), who has voted repeatedly to prevent drilling off the Atlantic Coast, said that "the Bush-McCain plan is a gift to the oil companies that endangers the economic and environmental health of the Jersey Shore, our communities, and our wildlife. The last thing we need are drilling rigs off our shoreline."

"An oil spill can travel hundreds of miles," noted Lautenberg. "For instance, when the Exxon Valdez dumped 11 million gallons of oil in Alaska, the oil traveled
470 miles. Our coastline accounts for approximately $50 billion in tourism revenue every year and supports almost 500,000 jobs. In 1988, when a single bag of medical waste washed up on a New Jersey beach, the panic that ensued caused a loss of one-third of all tourist revenue for the year."

Proposing that we have a responsibility to "be the steward of the land for future generations," Menendez said that he would like to see us "break our addiction to oil and pursue renewable energy sources." Along those lines, Rothman said, "By our failure of vision and refusal to pursue" alternatives to fossil fuel, "we’re shackling our children and grandchildren."

While Rabbi Lawrence Troster — a Teaneck resident who is director of the Fellowship Program for Green Faith — said he opposes drilling for many of the same reasons cited by the legislators, he added that the plan also "violates the Jewish values of conserving and protecting the environment." Citing the principle of baal tashchit, which prohibits waste and mandates the reduction of consumption, Troster urged that a major effort be undertaken at all levels to create programs devoted to conserving resources and developing alternate sources of sustainable energy.

Hadar Susskind, Washington director for the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, which has been outspoken on the issue of energy policy, pointed out that the organization has consistently opposed offshore drilling.

In a ‘001 JCPA resolution, the group held that "the U.S. should not seek to increase energy independence by drilling for oil or gas in environmentally sensitive areas, particularly those that are unique natural areas or critical habitats for threatened species." Rather, it said, "increased energy efficiency, the rapid development of renewable energy technologies, significant increases in vehicle fuel economy standards, and building and increased use of mass transit should be achieved."

In that same resolution, the JCPA urged Congress "not to repeal, delay, or otherwise impede the full implementation and enforcement of existing environmental laws and standards."

Menendez said he is confident that the current challenge can be beaten back. He pointed out that in four different votes over the past year and a half, Congress defeated efforts to end the moratorium. Corzine, who said he is "absolutely opposed" to offshore drilling, told the Standard that there is significant bipartisan opposition to Bush’s proposal. Nevertheless, while Richard Zimmer, Lautenberg’s Republican opponent for Senate, has voiced his opposition to drilling, Rep. Scott Garrett (R-5) appeared to endorse it.

In a statement sent to the Standard, Garrett said that "it is our responsibility to develop sound policies that will ensure energy security. What is a good energy policy? A good energy policy gives you more energy. More supply. A bad energy policy is one that makes us less secure and more dependent upon foreign sources like Saudi Arabia, Russia, and unstable regimes like Venezuela. Using ‘1st-century technology, the option to pursue deep-sea exploration would allow for the increase of American supply and result in a decrease in gas prices."

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