Despite the gloom on Wall Street, Americans should be celebrating one of the most significant legislative victories in a generation. A victory that, if protected against legislative and legal challenges, could bolster U.S. economic strength for years to come. As of Oct. 1, the congressional ban on offshore oil drilling in federal waters will die an entirely salutary death. Also dead, hopefully, is the longstanding ban on development of oil shale deposits in the American West.
First, as to the size of the victory: The Associated Press noted that being pro-drilling went from a “political liability” to a triumphant position in just “a matter of months.” It never would have happened without Indiana’s Mike Pence in the House and his compatriots taking to the House floor, day after day in August, protesting against the House officially being in “recess” during an energy crisis. And it would not have happened without South Carolina’s Jim DeMint in the Senate heading off bogus “compromise” drilling bills by repeatedly reminding wavering colleagues that the ban would die on its own if they stayed firm.
They and like-minded Republican members of Congress and some hardy pro-drilling Democrats alike made a strong public case. A new survey by the Institute for Energy Research shows that a whopping 73 percent of Americans now believe, rightly, that we can do more offshore drilling while still protecting the environment. The public understands that more domestic drilling means greater security and lower prices at the pump.
Still, hurdles remain. House Appropriations Chairman David Obey, D-Wis., pledged to try reinstating the drilling ban later. This week, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid was pushing an amendment to renew the ban on oil shale. And the giant six-month spending bill about to pass Congress includes language that is an open invitation for lawsuits against offshore drilling. Rep. John Shadegg, R-Ariz., has noted that radical environmentalists are using the courts to harass existing leases, so much that they have filed lawsuits to block the entire five-year program for areas already open to drilling.
The next battles, then, will be to block Reid’s oil-shale amendment, and to pass Shadegg’s eminently reasonable proposal to consolidate all anti-drilling lawsuits into one court and ensure that the trial and appeals be heard within one year.