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by Mother Jones
Sunday, Jul. 13, 2003 at 9:56 AM
Natural gas prices aren't going to get better any time soon , and could seriously effect the stability of the US economy, Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan told the Senate on Wednesday. And to nobody's surprise, Republicans have been on the move to slash natural gas prices by rolling back environmental restrictions.
Republicans have been trying to tap into domestic natural gas resources for some time. Now, by easing environmental restrictions that protect coastal regions from intrusive drilling and pipelines, the GOP claims they can stimulate the economy. Following suggestions from Vice President Dick Cheney's energy task force, the legislative body that regulates the oceans (the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration or NOAA) is proposing changes to the Coastal Zone Management Act. The GOP argues that with wholesale gas prices climbing, the Management Act could put a damper on the already sluggish US economy, as CBS reports:
"Reps. Richard Pombo, R-Calif., and Rep. Billy Tauzin, R-La., are heading an effort to roll back environmental restrictions that they say prevent gas companies from tapping new domestic supplies.
The restrictions 'threaten our nation's economic health and American jobs, just as our economy is showing signs of recovery,' they wrote in a letter to Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill.
Unless the government takes steps to allow drilling in currently closed or restricted areas, primarily in the West, the nation could become more dependent on foreign energy supplies, the Republican lawmakers said. "
But this is nothing new. Bush et. al.'s fight to restrict environmental rules is ubiquitous -- affecting everything from Yellowstone to the fragile coastal ecosystems. The federal government -- in conjunction with the energy and gas industries -- has been attempting to usurp states' power to prevent offshore drilling on their coasts. In its nascent proposal from the NOAA, the Bush administration is hoping to close loopholes that have allowed states to delay drilling projects, sometimes until the projects were defeated in court or abandoned.
According to the Sarasota Herald-Tribune's Cory Reiss, the Coastal Zone Management Act gives states considerable leverage over coastal and offshore development, and the proposed changes could weaken states' rights:
"Critics say NOAA's proposed changes and the inventory would ease exploration in waters where drilling is banned.
Changing the Coastal Zone Management Act is groundwork for the day those restrictions are lifted. Energy companies have dozens of existing leases off Florida and California.
'Right now we're seeing things falling in place for opponents of the moratoria,' said Ellen Athas, director of the clean oceans program at the Ocean Conservancy.
Pro-drilling members of Congress have made no secret of their support for reining in obstinate states to increase domestic energy supplies. Coastal lawmakers are evaluating the NOAA proposals, but one Democratic Senate aide said the changes appear to be part of a general trend toward letting the oil and gas industry do what they want."
But Democrats argue that cutting environmental restrictions to tap into domestic resources will do nothing to help us in the short term. According to MSNBC's Miguel Llanos, Democrats argue that the best option is conservation:
"Environmentalists countered that Republicans were using prices as a smokescreen.
The [Natural Resources Defense Council] group countered that the United States should instead encourage energy conserving air conditioners and heaters, as well as greater use of wind and solar power. Both 'can deliver big savings at times of peak power demand, when power companies are running gas-fired plants full tilt,' the NRDC said in a statement.
The solar industry says that if it were provided financial incentives it could replace a third of the natural gas supply shortage predicted for 2005."
Meanwhile, Cheney may soon be in hot-water in an emerging controversy over the very same energy task force that wants to meddle with the Coastal Zone Management Act. Cheney lost a preliminary battle in the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals on Wednesday to keep his energy task force documents under lock and key. The question, of course, is what does Cheney have to hide?
Judicial Watch -- which was joined by the Sierra Club -- has filed suit against the government. They claim that energy industry representatives were essentially members of Cheney's task force. Cheney's failed attempt at blocking the discovery process was predicated on the fact that the task force conversations were protected by executive privilege. As Forbes' Dan Ackman writes:
"The idea behind executive privilege is that the president's conversations with his advisers should be private, allowing all involved to be candid while formulating initiatives. But the task force allegedly included consultations with outsiders, including Enron executives, which may weaken its claim and also increase the suggestion that the governmental process was corrupted by private interests. This concern is persistent when the vice president is a former CEO of oil service firm Halliburton and the president also toiled in the oil patch."
The court didn't agree with Cheney and ruled that the Bush Administration could not convert executive privilege into immunity from this suit. The court's opinion, writes the Telegraph's Simon English, was a blow to the administration:
"Judicial Watch said in a statement: 'The court has affirmed that the vice-president is not above the law. This ruling is a legal blow to the Bush administration's arrogant view of executive branch power. We look forward to finally gaining access to the inner workings of the energy task force.'"
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