WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today Representative Edward J. Markey (D-MA), a senior member of the House Resources Committee, opposed a bill sponsored by Resources Chairman Richard Pombo (R-CA) that would end the moratorium on drilling for oil and gas in environmentally-sensitive areas of the Outer Continental Shelf.  Markey’s amendment to the bill would strike the entire bill except for the section that suspends royalty-free drilling when oil prices are high. The House voted overwhelmingly last month 252-165 to adopt an amendment sponsored by Rep. Markey and Rep. Maurice Hinchey (D-NY) to the Interior appropriations bill that would have provided a strong incentive for oil companies to renegotiate leases that do not suspend royalty-free drilling when prices are high.  The bill sponsored by Chairman Pombo passed today.

Markey said today after his amendment was defeated and the Pombo bill passed committee, “This legislation amounts to a reversal of 25 years of policy for drilling in the sensitive environmental areas off our coasts from “no way” to “OK.”

Below are excerpts from Markey’s statement at the markup today:

“It is pretty much a complete rollback of the drilling protections off our coasts. From 100-200 miles out the protections from drilling are totally gone and states would have no say whether drilling would occur there. From 50-100 miles from the shore the bill would end protections against drilling unless the state acts to block drilling. A pro-drilling governor could veto a pro-environment legislative bill and then drilling could begin. The bill would seek to bribe states to allow drilling by offering them a large portion of the drilling revenue. The cynicism of the Republican plan is that they have cut Medicaid and other funding for the states, and then here attempt to bribe these cash-strapped states into allowing drilling off there coasts.

“There is no need to open up all of our coastlines to drilling when roughly 80 percent of OCS oil and gas reserves are in non-moratoria areas already open to drilling. There is no need to open up all of our coastlines to drilling when the oil and gas industry is holding thousands of active leases that are not yet producing. Of the 7,999 active leases in the Gulf of Mexico, oil companies are only producing on 1,884 of them. The Bush Administration has offered 267 million acres in the Gulf of Mexico over the past 5 years, yet only 40 million acres are under lease and only 7 million acres are producing. So, why are we proposing to open these lands to drilling, when the oil companies aren’t even producing in all the areas in which they are already allowed to drill and which hold the majority of the resources? 

The Markey amendment would have struck all of the controversial Outer Continental Shelf drilling provisions in this bill and left in place much of the Chairman’s language imposing fees on oil companies holding leases from 1998 and 1999 that omitted market-based price caps for the suspension of royalty-free drilling. This latter provision is similar to the Hinchey-Markey royalty relief amendment which passed the House last month 252-165.

“We should not be holding the solution to the royalty relief problem hostage to opening all of our coastal areas to drilling and diverting billions of dollars of revenue away from the treasury,” Markey concluded. “We need to put an end to taxpayer-subsidized, royalty-free drilling on public land when the price of oil is $70 per barrel. Subsidizing oil companies to drill at these prices is like subsidizing fish to swim – it just doesn’t make sense.”

The House voted overwhelmingly last month to fix this problem without strings attached, and it is completely wrong for the Republicans to now use fixing these leases as a pretext for taking away the protections for our coasts. Congress needs to demand that the oil companies start paying the American people a fair price to drill on the public’s lands. I urge adoption of the Markey amendment so that we can stop this cynical Republican attempt to reclaim one giveaway to big oil while handing out another.

For more information on Congressman Markey’s efforts relating to energy policy go to: http://markey.house.gov.

June 21, 2006

CONTACT: Israel Klein
or Morgan Gray