...[The only] two new permits issued by the Interior Department ... this month hardly qualify as a strong signal from D.C. (One was for a project with BP as the largest owner, and the other simply allowed resumption of a previously approved operation.)
And President Obama's call to add nearly $37 billion to the oil industry's tax burden offers a much clearer message... By the administration's own estimates, the moratorium cost the Gulf region 20,000 jobs through September 2010 alone, and its permitting freeze continues to directly and indirectly eliminate jobs and close businesses.
Obama's mission has succeeded: idled rigs are moving to foreign countries, gas prices are skyrocketing, and America's national security interests are endangered.
And despite a federal judge holding the administration in contempt of court for unconscionable permitting delays, America's self-imposed starvation diet will continue.
The 5th Circuit granted the Obama administration a stay from having to act on permit applications for Gulf of Mexico deepwater drilling projects - just under the 30-day deadline set by a federal judge who called the delays "increasingly inexcusable."
U.S. District Judge Martin Feldman had granted an injunction to Ensco Offshore Company, a shallow-water drilling company, on Feb. 17... The federal judge has said the Interior Department's "permitting backlog becomes increasingly inexcusable" as the months stretch on... With the 5th Circuit's order Tuesday, those delays will continue pending the government's appeal.
The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management has not acted on any drilling permit applications since the government imposed a blanket moratorium on offshore drilling about a month after the spill.
Officials defended the halt, which they said would give agents time to examine the then-current procedures and regulations imposed on deepwater drilling companies operating in the Gulf, and to tighten regulations, if necessary.
Feldman nixed the ban in June, finding that one rig explosion was not reason enough for the government to assume other rigs posed a similar threat of catastrophe. Within weeks, the Interior Department issued a second moratorium - one that offshore drilling companies, including Ensco, criticized as being nearly identical to the first. Ensco filed suit in July.
Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar said the government would enforce the moratorium, one way or another, until drilling safety and oil-spill response protocols were improved.
...In early February, Feldman said the Obama administration acted in contempt for continuing to enforce the moratorium after he had found the drilling ban was "arbitrary and capricious... As the first anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon disaster draws near, any reason that would have justified delays has, under a rule of reason, expired ... Beginning to process permit applications will restore normalcy to the Gulf region and repair the public's faith in the administrative process."
By some estimates, allowing aggressive shallow-water oil exploration in the Gulf would add nearly $2 billion a year to the U.S. economy.
That doesn't sound like a lot, what with the government in hock to China for about a trillion dollars, but -- for the real economy, believe me, it is.
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