Give Me Energy Independence, or Give Me Lawsuits

By August 23, 2007Energy

From today’s Wall Street Journal, the lead editorial, “Shell Game — The greens try to sue their way to an energy policy.

Just about everyone claims the U.S. must urgently become “energy independent,” yet at the same time just about every policy that may actually serve that goal is met with environmentalist opposition. That contradiction has impeded the Bush Administration’s attempts to increase domestic energy production. And even the modest progress so far may be blocked because litigation is driving the conflict out of politics and into the courts.

To see this trend at work, look north to Alaska, where lawsuits are blocking an offshore drilling program. Last week, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals granted an emergency stay that will suspend all operations until at least September, when the court will hear full arguments. The decision noted that the litigants–environmental pressure groups like the Natural Resources Defense Council–had shown “a probability of success on the merits.” Uh-oh.

Uh-oh is right. For one thing, just by this legal delay, any development has been pushed back by a full year due to weather conditions. And the greens are attacking the environmental review process practiced by the Minerals Management Service. Knock that one out of the box, and we can write off any development on public lands for the next umpteen years.

The Journal concludes:

The public interest in this case is domestic energy. The U.S. is one of the only countries in the world that chooses to lock up its natural resources. Since 2003, the Administration and Congress have lifted the federal moratoria on a few select areas of the Outer Continental Shelf. The Beaufort basin, which is estimated to hold 27.2 trillion cubic feet of natural gas and 8.2 billion barrels of recoverable oil, was one of those. A successful exploratory program could open a new frontier of energy.

That public purpose is what drives the greens bonkers, so they’re trying to create a legal backstop to prevent any Administration from doing what President Bush has done. The Shell case shows that even a long and expensive effort to address every conceivable concern can still be undone by lawsuits. If anyone wants to know why we’re still “dependent on foreign oil,” this is it.

Well, it is the 9th Circuit, the most over-turned court in the land. But otherwise, all sadly true. The politics of “energy independence” tends to be rhetorical jujitsu employed against the major industries that actually produce energy, with the consumers being the ones who suffer.

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