Friday, August 13, 2004

Dig, dig, dig and drill, drill, drill

The sweetest sounds in energy circles these days are the whirring of drill bits boring for new oil and gas finds and shoveling coal--especially in areas long considered off limits because of special environmental fragility.

Now the huge El Paso Corp. has reason to pop the champagne corks. As it?s done for other political chums who dislike government restrictions, the White House has overridden a U.S. Forest Service ban to give the giant Texas firm the go-ahead to drill perhaps 500 wells in New Mexico?s Carson National Forest.

Unless the White House backs down or a court intervenes, El Paso will be operating next door to the country?s largest Boy Scout training center on 200 square miles of ranch land. The area is also home to 200 species of birds and 60 types of mammals, including the state?s largest elk herd.

The scheme to approve drilling was revealed by the Los Angeles Times, which obtained copies of cozy correspondence between El Paso?s Washington lobbyist and the White House energy office. El Paso in effect asked the White House to rescind the Forest Service ban.

And why shouldn?t El Paso expect a presiden-tial break? It undoubtedly was among the favored firms Vice President Dick Cheney convened in secretive energy planning sessions early in Bush 43?s presidency to hatch deals that euphemistically are now known as ?energy policy.?

What a policy. Opening other oil and gas pro-duction in Western states is on the White House front burner. The policy ignores meaningful con-servation (Detroit is under no pressure to produce better mileage vehicles). It defies sensible environmental care (the White House is easing rules on coal production). Cracking down on mercury content of smokestack emissions won?t take effect until the year 2018.

The cavalier ?energy policy? to encourage fuel producers to dig, dig, dig and drill, drill, drill has a counterpart in electricity production: the president abandoned a promise and will allow fewer limits on carbon dioxide emissions.

That finally was too much for eight states (California, Connecticut, Iowa, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Vermont, Wisconsin and New York), which filed a lawsuit against five major power producers accusing them of being public nuisances with their pollution.

The litigation may be futile, but the aggressive response to the White House?s cavalier indifference to air pollution will require the Bush administration to explain in court its public-be-damned policy.

The cumulative damage the Bush presidency has inflicted on the environment by relaxing air and water quality rules will have profound and lasting effects on society for generations.

Understandably, President Bush prefers talking about Iraq and a war a half a world away rather than turning the environment over to the demands of polluters.

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