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Posted: May 12, 2010 12:01 a.m.

Ga. Congressmen say ‘keep drilling’

Georgia has never been an oil-producing state, but its congressmen have always been the most enthusiastic supporters anywhere of exploring every conceivable location where black gold might be located.

When Zell Miller was still in the U.S. Senate, he and Saxby Chambliss called for oil drilling in the Arctic Natural Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) in Alaska.

During the summer of 2008, Georgia's current and former members of Congress were among the loudest voices demanding that America's coastlines be opened up to oil exploration.

Reps. Tom Price of Roswell and Lynn Westmoreland of Sharpsburg participated in mock sessions of the U.S. House where Republicans denounced Speaker Nancy Pelosi and chanted, "Drill, baby, drill!"

Former House speaker Newt Gringrich wrote a book with the provocative title, "Drill Here, Drill Now, Pay Less."

In recent weeks, of course, TV news programs have shown us compelling images of what happens when offshore oil drilling goes wrong.

The explosion and collapse of British Petroleum's Deepwater Horizon rig has caused the release of more than 200,000 gallons of oil per day into the Gulf of Mexico, with a huge black slick threatening the coastal areas of the gulf states.

Scientists have also raised the alarming possibility that the oil slick could move around the southern tip of Florida and be carried by ocean currents up the East Coast.
Has the oil spill caused any second thoughts for Georgia politicians who have been such determined advocates of offshore drilling? That does not appear to be the case. Their support remains strong, even as the oily slick edges closer to the Louisiana marshlands.
"The answer to the crisis in the Gulf is not to move backward by halting new American offshore energy production," Gingrich said.

Ryan Murphy, the communications director for Tom Price, said the congressman "believes we need an ‘all of the above' energy plan - offshore exploration is one component of that. This is a tragedy, it needs to be addressed, lessons need to be learned, but that's no reason for Americans to abandon the search for energy."

Westmoreland's media spokesman, Justin Stokes, said there has been "no change in the congressman's position. He still supports an ‘all of the above' energy policy, and that includes offshore drilling."

Rep. John Linder of Gwinnett County, who is retiring later this year as the 7th District congressman, told a reporter: "I support exploring and drilling anywhere we can. We need to explore everywhere we think there might be any recoverable oil."

A Democratic congressman who has supported oil exploration off the coasts and in the Alaska wilderness has been Rep. Jim Marshall of Macon, who wrote a newspaper column two years ago arguing that "virtually all general drilling bans should be lifted."
Marshall spokesman Doug Moore said the congressman is "a combination of frustrated and disappointed" by the events surrounding the oil spill.

"I don't know if he has fully changed his mind on this or how it might affect drilling off the Georgia coast," Moore said. "We have talked about it, but haven't gotten to the point of, ‘have you changed your position?'"

Another political figure caught short by the oil spill is President Barack Obama. He announced on March 31, just three weeks before the Deepwater Horizon blowup, that his proposed energy plan would open up the coastal waters of Georgia and other Atlantic Coast states to offshore oil exploration.

Obama's Interior Department has now ordered a halt to all new offshore drilling permits until at least the end May.

While our congressional representatives continue to support offshore exploration, the events in the Gulf of Mexico have raised red flags in other quarters.

Tom Barton, a conservative columnist with the Savannah Morning News, opined that "The massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, which is threatening the coastal areas of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida, is Exhibit A for those who doubt the wisdom of sinking wells off the Atlantic coast . . . Unfortunately, some of the slick that's now the size of West Virginia could wind up near here."

Barton is understandably concerned about the effects of gooey, black oil washing up on the beaches around his city. I would guess he's not the only coastal resident who's worried.

Tom Crawford is the editor of Capitol Impact's Georgia Report at www.gareport.com that covers government and politics in Georgia. He can be reached at tcrawford@capitolimpact.net.

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