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Drill and Spill Bodes Ill

by Editorial Board
The Daily Astorian, April 6, 2010

President Obama makes an ineffectual gesture to the oil and gas industry We who live in such close quarters with the ocean and the Columbia River have cause for discomfort over the nicely rhyming conundrums of drilling and spilling.

Of the two, drilling is for now the more hypothetical worry. In what appears to have been a rather ineffectual gesture toward the oil and gas industry, President Obama last week went along with his Interior secretary's plan to open much more of the Gulf and Atlantic continental shelves to energy exploration, along with some previously closed Alaskan waters.

It was not surprising. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar was a U.S. senator from Colorado before his promotion last year.

Salazar was, for instance, a vocal supporter of both Bush Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and Bush Interior Secretary Gale Norton. More to the point, Salazar was expected to be a friend to the oil business in the Obama Interior Department, and has now proven true to that prediction.

It's still disappointing. As noted by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), the Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Strategy announced last week ignores the recommendations and cautions put forward by the Obama administration's lead ocean resource agency, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Obama's NOAA has not exactly covered itself in glory, but it is right in this instance that the nation needs a coordinated ocean strategy that accounts for all the competing priorities of fisheries, navigation, military activities, deepwater ports and nonpetroleum energy projects.

It is worth quoting PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch: "Unfortunately, the Obama administration seems to regard ocean resources as a bargaining chip rather than as a heritage."

The Oregon and Washington coasts aren't directly affected by the drilling decision. But that may have less to do with environmental deference than with the fact that no one thinks much oil and gas is to be found here. If that changes, you can bet the federal government will be happy to begin permitting exploration here.

We should not be taking big risks with our coastlines while perpetuating our addiction to fossil fuels.

Whereas drilling mostly serves as a worrisome barometer of the Obama administration's environmental priorities, spilling is an immediately relevant and forthcoming federal decision. This issue also involves NOAA, though, in this case, there is reason to question whether the agency's stance is in the best interest of the local resource it is supposed to protect: endangered salmon.

This summer, when water flows are expected to be low following an El Nino winter, federal authorities will have to decide between spilling enough water from dams to permit natural outbound migration of salmon smolts, or whether to instead transport many of the small fish by barge. Barge transport keeps more water available to turn power turbines, but may not be as good for salmon and the river.

The technicalities of all this defy quick explanation. But at the end of the day, we who live here deserve the strongest possible reassurance that long-term salmon survival will get top priority and not fall victim to the politics of energy production.

Editorial Board
Drill and Spill Bodes Ill
The Daily Astorian, April 6, 2010

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