Monday, August 23, 2010

Treading Slick Political Waters in the Gulf of Mexico

My AOL News article Link to original

Opinion: Treading Slick Political Waters
(May 19) — The oil spill in the Gulf of
Mexico has focused a white-hot light on the
problems faced along the country’s coastal
zones. Even as experts are struggling to
staunch the spill, Americans are struggling
to find the best path to secure our nation’s
energy future.
The political ramifications from the spill
came to a head this week with the announcement
that the U.S. Department of
the Interior plans to split the federal Minerals
Management Service, which is supposed
to supervise the country’s renewable
resources in eco-friendly ways. This new
plan will divide the MMS section that ensures
that energy companies comply with
federal safety and environmental regulations
from the section that gets billions of
dollars in drilling royalties for the federal
government each year — second only to
federal taxes among our nation’s most important
revenue streams.
The move, according to Interior Secretary
Ken Salazar, was designed to guarantee
“there is no conflict, real or perceived,
with respect to those functions.” But there’s
already a real political conflict on how best
to proceed with energy policy in the wake of
this environmental disaster. The “Drill,
baby, drill” cheerleading of Sarah Palin and
John McCain during his 2008 presidential
bid, as well as by Newt Gingrich, the de-facto
intellectual guru of the GOP, has lost
nearly all of its cachet.
In a new CBS News poll, more than a
third of all Americans say the spill is “an indication
of a broader problem with offshore
drilling.” Yet a recent Pew survey also
shows just 38 percent approval for the
president’s handling of the oil leak.
So both political sides are covered in
sludge over this spill, leaving even more uncertainty
over how best to proceed. That
makes it one of the most complex and pervasive
coastal policy challenges ever seen.
It will leave a much more lasting impact
than Katrina.
And it’s only going to get worse according
to Joanna Gyory, Arthur J. Mariano and
Edward H. Ryan, some of my colleagues at
Nova Southeastern University Oceanographic
Center. They are now tracking the
Gulf of Mexico currents that swirl east.
Those currents take material from the Gulf
to the Florida Keys, along the southern tip
of Florida, and then into the Gulf Stream,
which runs north along the entire U.S.
coast and then past Ireland and England.
This flow is indicated on the map below.
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
According to the scientists, The Loop
Current (1) feeds the Florida Current that
transports significant amounts of heat toward
the North Pole; (2) transports surface
waters of tropical origin into the Gulf of
Mexico; and (3) is fed by the Caribbean current
and the Yucatan Current.
This could add to the enormous political
firestorm that has already exploded over oil
drilling offshore and in the environment.
For the Republicans, this is bad news up
and down the oil-threatened East Coast,
with repercussions also felt across the
Should we stop offshore drilling?
We can’t. Our dependence on carbonbased
fuels is so huge that we will be struggling
with how to make coal, oil and natural
gas environmentally friendly for many,
many decades. But just where do we drill?
After this disaster, many coastal states may
take a not-in-my-backyard (or-not-along-my-
beaches) position.
One thing’s for sure. After this spill,
“Drill, baby, drill” will not be the bumper
sticker of any political party anytime soon.
Steffen Schmidt teaches coastal policy
and is an affiliate at the Nova Southeastern
University Oceanographic Center in
Dania Beach, Fla. He is a professor of political
science at Iowa State University.

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