Oil and gas drillers set their sights on U.S. coastal areas

A federal moratorium on oil and gas drilling off U.S. coasts has been in place for 24 years, but there are signs — the debate over drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge being just one — that it may be in danger. The oil and gas industry has been heavily lobbying state governments, where they believe the decisions on coastal drilling will ultimately be made. Virginia’s general assembly passed a bill last month urging the state’s congressional delegation to seek an exemption from the federal ban. And Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) just this week proposed federal legislation that would allow governors to open some of their previously off-limits offshore resources. The Bush administration has already pledged to give industry access to areas off the Florida coast in 2007, when their protection under the ban lapses (and Florida Gov. Jeb Bush is safely out of office). Watch out, says Mark Ferrulo of Florida’s Public Interest Research Group: “Once they get their toe in the door, they won’t be happy until they bust the door down.”