Congress passes drilling, fisheries bills in final days of session

Gasping and flopping like a landed fish, the Republican-led Congress passed an offshore-drilling measure during its final days. The legislation, passed by the House and Senate as part of a larger tax bill, will open 8.3 million acres in the Gulf of Mexico to oil and natural-gas exploration, with nearly 40 percent of royalties going to Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Texas. The victory jig was slightly muted by misty watercolored memories of a bigger, badder bill that failed earlier this year: “When it comes to passing important legislation around here,” said Rep. John Peterson (R-Pa.), “you learn to shoot for the stars in the hope that you might land on the moon.” In other ocean-related news, Congress shot for the, uh, StarKist, overhauling U.S. fisheries rules. The updated Magnuson-Stevens Act requires regional councils to combat overfishing and endorses a cap-and-trade plan that would, as with pollution, allow oversteppers to buy credits from those with a modicum of self-restraint.