By DALE McFEATTERS
The noisy fight over whether to drill in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge has always been something of a distraction in the quest for that elusive, perhaps mythical, goal of "energy independence."
If greater domestic production of oil and gas is in the national interest — and most people, at least in the abstract, seem to believe it is — then it makes more sense to exploit reserves closer to the markets than the remote coasts of Alaska.
Congress, seeking to defuse the political issue of high gasoline prices, is moving toward lifting drilling restrictions in the Gulf of Mexico, brushing past the fact that this would have no effect on energy prices for years to come.
The Senate would open an 8.3 million-acre tract 125 miles off Florida to energy drilling. The bill would extend a longstanding moratorium on drilling in tracts closer to the Florida coast until 2022. The House typically takes a more expansive view on energy issues and would allow drilling in much greater areas of the Gulf and much closer _ as near as 50 miles _ to shore.
The legislation may not pass this year. Congress has left itself too little time, between its abbreviated calendar and grandstanding on sideshow issues, to resolve controversial matters. And one controversy is a huge jump _ from almost 2 percent to almost 38 percent _ in the percentage of royalties going to Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas.
Congress is disinclined to address a potentially greater source of energy, the Atlantic and Pacific coasts. Opponents of this bill fear it could be the first step in ending a 25-year moratorium on exploration and drilling there. To allay those fears, proponents have offered to extend that ban, which Congress regularly extends, to 2022, also.
However, lawmakers may have run into a political force greater than the desire for cheaper gasoline and heating, a subspecies of NIMBY that one might call NOMBY _ not off my beach and yacht.
(Contact Dale McFeatters at McFeattersD(at)SHNS.com)