By Fergus Hodgson, Pelican Institute for Public Policy
Promoting the tagline, “My Job Matters,” more than 50 Gulf state residents travelled to the Capitol to protest the moratorium and regulatory impediments to drilling in the Gulf of Mexico.
Protesters gave speeches in front of the U.S. Capitol Building, and Texas Senator John Cornyn and former Pennsylvania Representative John Peterson voiced their support. Additionally, individuals lobbied congressional members and staff, shared their frustrations with media outlets, and met with low-tax advocates Americans for Tax Reform.
Event organizers Save U.S. Energy Jobs (a project of the American Energy Alliance) gave time and emphasis to direct victims of the oil spill tragedy. Thomas Clements, owner and operations manager of an oilfield equipment supply firm, supported by his wife, Melissa, was one of many to speak.
“We’ve come all this way to be heard, to ask Congress and Obama to end this moratorium. It immediately affected our business; we have no income coming in… We had orders scheduled for the entire year – on the books, ready. And then when the six-month moratorium came out it cancelled all our orders, immediately. We’re devastated.” The paperwork requirements of the BP fund and the verbal agreement approach of the industry mean that so far he and his wife have not been able to receive any compensation.
Thirty Louisianans made up the majority of the protest group, but Texas, Mississippi, and Alabama also had members, reflecting a diverse set of constituents and perspectives. Carroll Robinson, for example, is chairman of the Houston Citizens Chamber of Commerce, “the oldest and largest African American chamber in the city, representing about 600 African American owned businesses.”
“[The message] we’re trying to get across is that there are a lot of African American owned businesses that are involved in the oil and gas industry as contractors, subcontractors, and also a lot African Americans that are employed. So the moratorium and [oil-related tax issues] impact a broad part of America… I think the way the message is being portrayed is one dimensional, as only environmental, when in fact there are also economic impacts.”
Merle Flowers, a Mississippi state senator (R-Desoto County), also made the journey and spoke. “This moratorium has already cost many of our citizens their jobs, and the longer the moratorium stays in place, that job loss number will only increase… Mississippi already has one of the highest unemployment rates in the country. We can’t afford to lose one more job, let alone thousands more jobs… To make matters worse, the Obama administration’s 2011 budget includes provisions that will impose new taxes on domestic energy producers… Any such policy such as this is simply going to shift more platforms abroad and more jobs away from Mississippi and our neighbors in the Gulf Coast.”
Sarah Rhodes, an office manager for a lobbying firm that represents pipelines refineries, and chemical companies, is concerned that Washington leaders don’t “have their hands around the fact that this industry is so important… It doesn’t hit home because it’s not in their back yard.” She already knows of individuals that have lost their jobs and are now migrating out of Louisiana.
Sue Dupont, a realtor and president of the Breaux Bridge Area Chamber of Commerce, Louisiana, has seen commercial real estate sales fall through on account of the moratorium, and “leasing is being affected also… If companies start moving out, we’re going to be losing families… This moratorium needs to be lifted and lifted today.”
The protest came in the wake of good news for the group. Just one day prior Michael Bromwich, head of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (formerly the Minerals Management Service), announced that Obama is considering an end to the moratorium earlier than the planned six months. While Bromwich refused to commit to a date, he has initiated and is attending town hall style “fact finding forums” in Louisiana, Alabama, and Florida, with more locations to come. In addition, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced that there would be no action on the oil-spill bill until after the August recess.
Later in the day, Senator David Vitter (R-La) thanked the group for coming to Washington, acknowledged the severity of the situation, and discussed the political realities they face.
“If this moratorium continues anywhere near six months, it will cost us more jobs than the oil ever did, and that’s the simple bottom line… So this is a really really serious challenge. It’s horrible for the country – bad for our country’s economy and energy security. It would be devastating for Louisiana.”
He highlighted that in addition to the official moratorium “there is really a de facto shallow water moratorium too… As a practical matter, new permits aren’t being issued.”
“As if that isn’t bad enough, [the administration] is about to roll out a new [regulatory] rulebook, including for shallow [drilling], and that could take the task from extremely difficult, near impossible, to literally impossible... Every individual little shallow well, a very commonplace thing, but that amounts to a lot of jobs, would take a months and months long [environmental review] process that either is going to slow each of those projects down enormously or shut them down completely.”
According to Vitter, the political climate in the executive branch is the heart of the problem. “If we could pass clear language ending the moratorium, hopefully we’d be building pressure. However as long as [Obama] is president, he has a lot of push back, including the most obvious, to veto the legislation.” However, the only political pressure he can see that “would make a big difference is the price of gasoline at the pump to go right up... Now that’s not going to happen because of the economy. Unfortunately, we’re still in a recession, and world-wide demand is way down.”
The Pelican Institute for Public Policy is a non-profit research and education institution that conducts scholarly research and analysis of Louisiana public policy. For more information, visit www.pelicaninstitute.org.