September 29, 2010

Sen. Landrieu's Counterproductive Hold on the Lew Nomination

Senator Mary Landrieu (D-La.) currently has a hold on Jacob Lew’s confirmation to become the next director of the Office of Management and Budget, and says she won't release it until the Obama Administration ends the moratorium on deepwater oil and gas drilling. She said that while Lew “clearly possesses the expertise necessary to serve…he lacks sufficient concern for the host of economic challenges confronting the Gulf Coast.”

Sen. Landrieu seems to be ignoring the impacts of too hastily allowing oil companies to engage in risky drilling operations – something that came sharply into focus when BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded, killing 11 rig workers and spilling an estimated two hundred million gallons of oil into the Gulf.  But the impacts of too quickly rushing back into the same inadequate regulatory oversight that contributed to this oil spill don’t seem to factor into Sen. Landrieu’s calculus.  People living on the Gulf Coast are faced with the consequences of the spill’s aftermath – and effects such as stress and depression don’t easily translate into quantifiable dollars and cents.

Sen. Landrieu said Tuesday that "This moratorium is doing almost as much damage and I think more damage than the spill itself." But the predictions of widespread job losses haven't panned out.

The Obama administration wants the hold ended.  After meeting with Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, Landrieu said she is still firm in her position. In addition to lifting the moratorium on deepwater drilling, Sen. Landrieu would also like to see an acceleration of permits for shallow water drilling in the Gulf.

But Sen. Landrieu should not act as if suddenly the government is prepared to prevent or mitigate the next disaster  For example, as CPR recently pointed out, the government is not adequately prepared to make real-time decisions about safety protections for cleanup workers when the next disaster strikes.  These concerns should be paramount in the Senator’s mind.

Sen. Landrieu should not expect the Obama administration to lift its moratorium on deepwater drilling by holding Lew’s confirmation captive.  The administration’s choice to suspend drilling was a rational response to a great tragedy, and new drilling operations should not begin until there is a credible, enforceable way to ensure that an oil company’s emergency response does not consist of a series of trial by error attempts to staunch a spill.

Lena Pons, former CPR Policy Analyst, Center for Progressive Reform. Bio.

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