Friday, June 20, 2008
One more post about federal land law use before a return to local law next week. The big domestic news this week was President Bush’s call for lifting the moratoria on drilling for oil off American shores (okay, it’s not really a federal land use issue, but a federal sea use issue). In light of current high gasoline prices, this was not unexpected, and neither was John McCain’s agreement. What was surprising, however, was the thumbs-up from Florida Governor’s Charlie Crist; one of the reasons for the moratoria has been that coastal states (whose citizens would share only a fraction of the benefits of offshore oil) have opposed drilling because they would bear the full risk of potential spills and other environmental harms.
Now, I find persuasive the argument that offshore drilling probably wouldn’t affect supplies for many years, and would have only a minor effect on the world price for oil. However, let’s realize what our policies have meant. We have in effect said, “We want oil from around the world to feed our thirst, but we don’t want any of the dirty risks associated with its offshore extraction.” This is a win-win policy when the world price is low, but somewhat off kilter when it is not. It reminds me of local zoning laws that exclude unwanted land uses, such as landfills, sewage plants, and low-cost apartment housing. While the community needs all of these land uses (and even wealthy citizens need low-cost housing somewhere, if only to house their maids and firefighters), influential citizens don’t want any of these uses anywhere near them.
And although I understand the argument that the oil reserves off American shores amount to only a fraction of the world’s demand, let’s not fool ourselves into believing that the environment takes precedence over gasoline for most Americans. If there were enough oil off Alaska and Florida to deflate rapidly the price of gasoline by a couple of dollars, the clamor to drill immediately (the risks of spills be damned) would be overwhelming …
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