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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Post-Katrina Energy

Air Date: Week of

In the wake of widespread damage to natural gas, oil rigs and refineries during this year’s hurricane season, the government has approved a controversial bill to expand refineries and limit some environmental regulations. And now some lawmakers want to go further to expand offshore drilling. Living on Earth’s Jeff Young reports from Capitol Hill.


CURWOOD: EPA officials say they are testing the soil in the Agriculture Street neighborhood, but they have not released their results yet. Meanwhile, Congress has swung into action in the wake of widespread damage to natural gas and oil rigs and refineries during this year’s hurricane season. The House of Representatives has already narrowly approved a controversial bill to expand refineries and limit some environmental regulations. And now some lawmakers want to go further to expand offshore drilling. Living on Earth’s Jeff Young reports.

YOUNG: When viewed from Capitol Hill, the swirling satellite images of hurricanes could well be Dr. Rorschach’s famous inkblots. Politicians tend to see in them what they want to see. Some Democrats see a need for more investment in renewable energy and conservation measures. Some Republicans see something else.

BUSH: They highlighted a problem I've been talking about since I've come to Washington: We need more refining capacity.

YOUNG: The Republican controlled House of Representatives took its cue from President Bush in its first energy vote since the storms. The House rejected renewable energy and fuel efficiency proposals and narrowly approved subsidies for refinery construction. The bill by Energy Chairman Joe Barton of Texas would encourage new refineries with tax breaks and relaxed environmental regulation. A proposal from Resources Committee Chairman Richard Pombo of California would also have encouraged more offshore drilling. The drilling provisions were dropped after opposition from coastal states. Even then, Barton’s stripped-down bill struggled on the floor.

HOUSE SPEAKER: House will be in order!


HOUSE SPEAKER: House will be in order!

YOUNG: Moderate Republicans joined Democrats in what looked like a two vote defeat for Barton’s bill. The vote was supposed to take five minutes, but the gavel did not fall. For ten, 20, then 30 minutes, Republican leaders kept the floor open until they convinced enough moderates to switch their votes.

HOUSE FLOOR: Mr. Speaker! The Democratic leader is trying to be recognized.

YOUNG: Democrats like Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi were outraged.

PELOSI: Mr. Speaker, my parliamentary inquiry, is it not bringing dishonor to the House of Representatives for this body to act in…


SPEAKER: Gentlelady is not…

PELOSI: In the shameful way it is…Is not part of culture of corruption…

SPEAKER: Does the gentlelady have a parliamentary inquiry?

PELOSI: …of the Republican Party? To dishonor the wishes of the American people? When are you gonna honor the will of the people who have just spoken?

SPEAKER : Does the gentlelady have a parliamentary inquiry?

PELOSI: I have a parliamentary inquiry: when are you gonna honor them?

SPEAKER: House will be in order! [GAVEL SOUNDS]


YOUNG: After nearly 45 minutes, Barton’s bill passed and the House floor was in bedlam.

SPEAKER : On this vote the ayes are 212, the nays 210. Majority voting in the affirmative, the bill is passed.

CHANTING: Shame! Shame! Shame!

YOUNG: Massachusetts Democrat Ed Markey sought to seize political momentum in anticipation of the next big energy vote: an upcoming budget bill likely to include more drilling.

MARKEY : I think that this vote today, in anticipation of what the same moderate Republicans are going to be asked to vote on, is going to raise questions. How long can they go before their own political careers are put in jeopardy?

YOUNG: Drilling proponents plan to use budget reconciliation bills in both the House and Senate to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling. There’s also speculation the House version will renew calls for more offshore drilling. Florida politicians have defeated past drilling attempts to protect their beaches. But recent comments by Florida Governor Jeb Bush indicate a shift in the political sands. Bush told reporters he must engage a new reality of likely drilling in the Eastern Gulf of Mexico.

J. BUSH: There are two approaches. One is to be politically correct and, basically, be ineffective, or to have a chance to influence events and to enhance our position.

YOUNG: Florida environmental advocates say Governor Bush is negotiating with House Resources Chair Pombo on new drilling boundaries in the Gulf. Mark Ferrulo of the Florida Public Interest Research Group says Bush has broken his election year pledge against drilling.

FERRULO: Now we are seeing a retreat, and that retreat is embodied in a compromise that he’s looking at that would allow drilling as close as 100 to 125 miles off our coastline. And that is cause for alarm.

YOUNG: Ferrulo says it’s beginning to undermine what was once a solid front among Florida’s Congressional delegation.

FERRULO: Now what we’re seeing under this latest attack is, we’re circling the wagons but some of the wagons are missing.

YOUNG: As all eyes focus on what is expected to be close budget votes later this month, it’s still up in the air which energy lesson Congress will heed from the hurricanes.

For Living on Earth, I’m Jeff Young in Washington.



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