NEW ORLEANS — In an ironic twist of fate, the chairmen appointed by President Obama to study the impact of the Gulf oil spill turned their attention to Obama’s own offshore drilling moratorium as a significant factor causing economic harm.
Commission co-chairman Bob Graham, a former Democratic senator from Florida, bluntly declared Tuesday that there’s a “disconnect between Washington and the Gulf region about the sense of urgency needed.” The Republican co-chairman, former Environmental Protection Agency chief William Reilly, said the moratorium should be shortened.
After a federal court struck down the Interior Department’s first moratorium, Secretary Ken Salazar issued a new ban Monday that lasts until Nov. 30. It was greeted with strong disapproval in Louisiana, where businesses throughout the region have suffered. Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA) testified Tuesday before the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling Commission against the moratorium.
The commission’s two-day public meeting in New Orleans marked the start of a review initiated by Obama to gather information on the oil spill cleanup and its associated impacts.
When the meeting started Monday, Graham and Reilly didn’t expect to do much about the moratorium. But that changed by Tuesday afternoon, when Reilly acknowledged he had a different perspective.
“I come to this experience with a much greater sense of the economic dislocation being experienced here than I had three days ago,” said Reilly, according to the New Orleans Times-Picayune. “It’s not clear for me why it should take so long to reassure oneself about [safety] considerations on those rigs.”
The commission heard testimony about the inspection of drilling rigs from Michael Bromwich, director of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement. He didn’t rule out a shorter moratorium, but also spoke about the need for a more thorough review. Reilly made sure he understood the economic consequences of the inactivity.
“If there’s a single point of consensus as we’ve been down here, it’s that the moratorium is doing very significant economic damage to this area,” said Reilly, according to the Times-Picayune. “As Sen. Landrieu said there are only 33 rigs. How hard can it be to put inspectors on each one and draw conclusions that will allow a resumption of activity?”
Lafourche Parish President Charlotte Randolph offered a local perspective on the moratorium. She made no secret of her disdain for commissioner Frances Beinecke’s critical comments of offshore drilling.
The meeting also gave local citizens an opportunity to speak out — both inside the Hilton Riverside Hotel and outside. The Pelican Institute for Public Policy reported about a number of protesters, including the New Orleans Regional Black Chamber of Commerce and Emergency Committee to Stop the Gulf Oil Disaster.