The Kerry-Lieberman American Power Act, formally rolled out yesterday, represents what Senator John Kerry considers a balance between "true believers" and others. In his words to Grist:
We’re in the middle of a catastrophe in the Gulf, and it’s important that we fully understand the implications as we move forward. This bill starts that process by tightening current federal law and implementing two major reforms. First, any state can veto drilling less than 75 miles off its border. Second, any new rig will have to be studied for the environmental impact of any potential spill, and any state that is found to be at risk can veto that drilling.
The offshore oil compromise fails. Instead, the American people need to have the taint of Big Oil’s influence removed from the climate bill entirely.
Any debate over whether it’s better for oil to gush from an underwater volcano and reach the vulnerable, environmentally sensitive waters of the Louisiana shoreline or spill from a supertanker into the equally vulnerable, environmentally sensitive waters of Prince William Sound has only one answer: None of the above.
1. Shell’s Plan
Yesterday, a federal appellate court approved Shell’s plan to drill five exploratory wells in the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas (Alaska’s North Slope) beginning July 1: "Shell’s Chukchi exploration plan concluded that a large oil spill, such as a release from a blowout, would be rare. MMS agreed and said the probability of a large spill during exploration was ‘insignificant.’" Hmmm, does this sound familiar at all? In fact, MMS has acknowledged that the likelihood of a major spill in the Arctic is at least 40% if large-scale oil and gas development moves forward.
Gee, what could possibly go wrong? Shell’s rigs will be operating in 500 feet of water amidst turbulent waters, heavy fog and shifting ice hundreds of miles from deep-water ports. The Los Angeles Times elaborates:
Unlike the Gulf of Mexico, where offshore drilling is easily accessible to the massive oil industry infrastructure along the coast, the Arctic is a remote region where cleanup crews may be hampered by bone-chilling cold, 24-hour-a-day darkness, 20-foot waves, clouds too low to launch aircraft and waters too shallow to bring in large ships.
To drill there, Shell must assemble a small flotilla of oil spill response equipment that will accompany the drilling rig, backed up by teams and equipment stationed 240 miles away at Prudhoe Bay and elsewhere along the North Slope.
President Obama’s temporary moratorium on new offshore drilling will expire on May 28 and won’t affect Shell’s mobilization at all.
2. The American Power Act
How would Shell’s plan fare under the American Power Act?
— A state can veto offshore drilling less than 75 miles off its border. Does anyone seriously think that Alaska, home of Senator Lisa "My Heart Bleeds Oil For Broke Poor BP" Murkowski, will exercise that veto power?
— A state can request a study of a new rig, and if it’s found to be at risk from a spill it may veto the proposed drilling. The "veto" provision seems written specifically to soothe Senators Lautenberg and Menendez, opposed to Virgina offshore drilling that may wash up on to New Jersey’s beaches. However, Alaska is far enough removed from its nearest American state neighbors that whoever-does-the-finding probably won’t find that other states are at risk. And the bill won’t give veto power to Inuit villagers, whales, fishermen, crabbers, polar bears, or anyone else directly affected.
Alaska is only one example showing why the compromise won’t protect the American people from another Oilpocalypse. Current events show how spilled oil can be swept from the Gulf of Mexico halfway up the Atlantic Seaboard.
Senators Kerry and Lieberman have a choice. They can stick with the compromise hoping that it’ll lure Lindsey Graham back from his poutfest — hasn’t worked yet, has it? Or they can listen to the polls showing plummeting support for offshore oil; listen to the accusations that their bill is too friendly to BP and its cohorts; and listen to their consciences. Strip out all Big Oil-friendly provisions in the American Power Act. Paint Republicans into a corner — do they favor or oppose Big Oil?
3. Action alert!
Write a letter to your local media opposing Shell’s plans, courtesy of Alaska Wilderness League.
Thank Representatives Jay Inslee (D-WA), Lois Capps (D-CA), Maurice Hinchey (D-NY), Betty McCollum (D-MN), and others who understand that there are too many unknowns to proceed with this summer’s Arctic drilling plan.
Shell’s plans highlight one significant flaw in the American Power Act. The slow motion nightmare unfolding in the Gulf of Mexico shows why, and how, the climate bill can be strengthened rather than killed outright.