February 20, 2006

New developments on 2 threatening fronts.

Reports today of developments on two fronts that could have major impact on the Outer Banks, offshore oil drilling and wetlands protection.

Offshore Oil Drilling

The N&O reports that Virginia may be about to push Congress to repeal the ban on petroleum exploration off its coast. This is part of a larger push in Congress to restart offshore drilling halted years ago.
Nationally, there was a move last year by energy companies to open more U.S. waters to offshore drilling, but the ideas didn't make it into the massive energy bill that Congress approved last fall.
Now, some in Congress -- including Sen. John Warner of Virginia -- are trying again.
Sometime this year, likely before June, Congress is going to make a decision about whether to allow more offshore drilling.
Last year there was a big push to convince local leaders that if the state relented in its opposition to drilling the feds might share some of the royalties (see this post about who is paying what) Dare County postponed a vote on a resolution supporting drilling when the energy bill was pushed through without resolving the issue. Meanwhile the issue is continuing to surface in Va. where there is support in Richmond and possibly in Tidewater. Carolina state government has not started to move on the issue but you can believe that supporters are already working the halls of the legislature and looking for openings like a Dare County resolution in support. The article talks about Sen. Burr hosting hearings with the Chairman of Peidmont Gas. Piedmont owns the local gas franchise that was originally developed by RV Owens and former NC Power executive John Hughes. You can bet the carrot of money for beach nourishment will be hung out again to try to get the Dare board to bite on off shore drilling.

Wetlands protection

Meanwhile, the NY Times reports the Supreme Court will hear a case on Tues. challenging the governments right to regulate some wetlands. There are actually two related cases and the outcomes could range from no change to a sweeping revision of the regulation of wetlands development.
The central question is where federal authority ends along the network of rivers, streams, canals and ditches. Does it reach all the veins and arterioles of the nation's waters, and all the wetlands that drain into them? Does it end with the waterways that are actually navigable and the wetlands abutting them? Or is it some place in between?
Also at issue are who draws those lines — and how — and who decides what the Clean Water Act means by "navigable waters" and "the waters of the United States."
Tucked into the larger question is the issue of how many of the nation's 100 million or so acres of wetlands have a close enough connection, or nexus, to regulated waters to fit under the same regulatory umbrella.

It does not sound like much of Dare County could be affected. Most of the regulated wetlands here borer navigable waters but upstream in NC and Va. the case could be very different. If federal protection for wetlands falters look to the state to pick up the slack. This may happen in the coastal region where the Coastal Resources Commission is well suited to the task, but who will promulgate the rules for the rest of the state. Think the legislature controlled by real estate and construction money will be so enlightened. Don't count on it. Lets hope the Supremes understand the national interest in clean water and the progress that has been made over the last two decades through federal regulation. Any change to eliminate rules would be a big step backward.


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