By Bill Mintz
WASHINGTON _ State and federal officials say they just want to
find the best way to coordinate the environmental programs for
the Gulf of Mexico.
But the oil and gas industry is now trying desperately to keep
that genie corked in its bottle.
The force that worries them is a bill that is headed for the
Senate floor that they fear will give the Environmental
Protection Agency more authority to regulate drilling activity in
The industry fears that a well-intentioned effort to address
Gulf environmental issues may be hijacked by environmentalists
who don't share their concern about the jobs and investment
represented by oil and gas production.
They point to the experience of industries that are struggling
with new regulations imposed by the EPA in the Great Lakes. And
energy industry leaders fear a new layer of regulation in the
Gulf, which is one of the few places where their rigs and
production platforms are still welcome.
An EPA water program official who asked not to be named
insisted the goal of the program is not to impose a new
regulatory structure. But he also said a Gulf environmental
program is not the place to establish economic development
The issue has become tangled in a knot of political infighting
involving several members of the Texas congressional delegation
and Texas Land Commissioner Garry Mauro. He is using his ties to
the Clinton administration to try to push his version of the
Each of the competing Texans claims to have the best way to
protect the Gulf without endangering the oil and gas drilling
program, which provides royalty income for both the federal
government and the Gulf states. They also portray competing
proposals as a threat to the energy industry.
Legislative efforts to unify Gulf management programs have
been introduced by Gulf Coast lawmakers ranging across the
What provoked the industry reaction is a section of the Senate
bill reauthorizing federal clean water programs that also
establishes a Gulf program.
The EPA established a Gulf program during the Bush
administration, but its scope is limited because it lacks the
statutory authority to follow through on its recommendations.
The clean water bill has been approved by the Senate
Environment and Public Works Committee. It is scheduled to be
debated in June.
The Senate bill designates the EPA as the "lead agency" in
Gulf matters. It creates a commission to coordinate state and
federal programs and develop a "Gulf of Mexico Management and
Brian Petty, senior vice president of the International
Association of Drilling Contractors, said the language of the
bill does not spell out a threat, but the industry fears that it
could lead to EPA management of the offshore drilling program in
the future. …