Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Peterson returns to the OCS battle

One year after President George W. Bush lifted the Outer Continental Shelf land withdrawal his father put in place, John E. Peterson was back on Capitol Hill asking why so little has happened on the OCS in the time since.

He was not alone. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, now general chairman of the advocacy group American Solutions; Doc Hastings (D-Wash.), the House Natural Resources Committee’s ranking minority member, and Institute for Energy Research President Thomas J. Pyle asked the same question at a July 14 event commemorating Bush’s action.

But Peterson, who did not run for re-election to the House last year after six terms, clearly relished being back. “This nation is broke. There’s nothing better Congress and the Obama administration could do economically than to start producing more domestic energy resources, onshore as well as offshore,” he told me after the rally.

I first wrote about Peterson in OGJ in 2006 when he was a lone voice in Congress calling for an end to OCS leasing moratoriums and withdrawals. He’d been at it for five years. This flew in the face of conventional wisdom, which stated that it just wasn’t going to happen.

But the Republican from Oil City, Pa., soon found an ally in Rep. Neil Abercrombie (D-Ha.), and the two of them began cosponsoring bills and amendments. They also formed a bipartisan coalition of House members that quietly developed legislation late last summer which, among other things, would have used future federal OCS revenues to help address coastal impacts and fund alternative energy research and development. The bill attracted more than 170 co-sponsors by mid-September.

Voter outcry in response to record high crude oil and gasoline prices forced the House’s Democratic leadership to let remaining OCS moratoriums expire on Sept. 30. When I saw Peterson again on July 14, he obviously was disappointed that more has not been done.

“The first thing the Obama administration did was put a five-year OCS leasing plan it inherited from the Bush administration on hold, along with other programs,” he said. “We’re fearful that they’re not going to move. The potential is tremendous, and offshore energy resources are close to population centers, particularly on the East Coast.”

Now that he’s out of Congress, Peterson could be candid about Republicans’ mistakes too. He suggested that there might have been too much deference to the Bushes, including Jeb Bush, who was Florida’s governor. He also thinks that more Republicans should have tried to reach a bipartisan OCS solution.

And he was glad to see Rep. Tim Murphy, another Pennsylvania Republican, step up and start cosponsoring OCS legislation with Abercrombie in 2009. “He’s not new to the game. He’s good. He was helpful when I was working on this issue. He believes in this,” Peterson said.

He conceded that he might not have as big an impact now that he’s a former House member. But he said he feels compelled to speak out because producing more domestic oil and gas, onshore as well as offshore, still matters, and he’d like to see more people paying closer attention to the issue. It was good to see him back in the fight.


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