Va. Lawmakers Hope To Renew Offshore Drilling Effort This Fall | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

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Va. Lawmakers Hope To Renew Offshore Drilling Effort This Fall

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An offshore drilling rig off the coast of Galveston, Texas. Some Virginia lawmakers are pushing to allow drilling off the coast of the state.
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An offshore drilling rig off the coast of Galveston, Texas. Some Virginia lawmakers are pushing to allow drilling off the coast of the state.

Virginia lawmakers are fighting for the state to get billions of dollars in revenue by allowing drilling off its coast, but the proposal is stalled in Congress and the state's congressional delegation still can't agree on whether to drill at all.

Many of the state's lawmakers want the Obama administration to lift a federal moratorium on drilling off Virginia's coast, but first, they have questions about where the resulting royalty money would go. Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) wants a good deal of the royalty money from drilling to go into the state's coffers.

"I support looking at what's offshore in Virginia, but making sure that Virginia gets a share of those royalties and that we dedicate some of those royalties to conservation, alternative energy development," Warner says.

In 2006, a law passed that allows five Gulf Coast states to share 37.5 percent of the revenue from drilling off their coasts. But negotiations to work out a revenue sharing deal for drilling off Virginia's coast are at an impasse in the Senate.

Warner, Webb tout their revenue sharing plan

Both Warner his fellow Virginia Senator Jim Webb (D), have signed on to a plan to give Virginia its share of the profits. As for why there's so much push-back on their proposal, Webb says there may be some jealousy over the profits because the more royalties Virginia gets, the less monies there will be for other states.

"States in the interior of the country believe that revenues from this would diminish, but if you look at revenue sharing packages on some of these leases that are on the interior states, they get revenue sharing too," he says. "It's not simply in the Gulf of Mexico."

In its current form, the Webb/Warner plan would bring money into the state's coffers quickly.

"The thing I like about the proposal that we put forward with revenue sharing is the revenue sharing begins when the lease is signed, not simply when the exploration occurs," Webb says.

That's especially important in the midst of this economic downturn. "So you could have a revenue flow coming into Virginia to assist us in infrastructure programs, highways, bridges -- where we really need some help," he says.

House may move more quickly, but Va. members remain divided

Neither Virginia senator sits on the committee with jurisdiction over the issue, which gives them less leverage. There's more support for the revenue sharing deal in the House, which is controlled by Republicans.

But in the House, to drill or not to drill is still the question for many in the Virginia delegation. Democrat Rep. Jim Moran (Va.) says there is absolutely no way to get him to support the push for drilling, because it could drive away existing jobs.

"There really isn't enough room for them to do it ... and because it jeopardizes tens of thousands of Navy jobs, which are far more important," Moran says, outlining his reasons for opposing the move. "Those are jobs in hand. It would take a decade for oil to start pumping. We don't know how much is out there but we know it would jeopardize either the Navy operations or the shipping channel."

The state's Republican House members sing a different tune. They're pro-drilling](http://wamu.org/news/11/07/25/virginialawmakersstilldebatingoffshore_drilling.php) and also want that money to help fix the state's roads and bridges. But are they still on board if the state doesn't get a big share of the revenue? It's not a question Rob Wittman (R-Va.) wants to answer.

"At the end of the day it needs to be a level playing field," he says. "Virginia needs to get the same proceeds as Alaska and the Gulf states do for the development of their fossil fuels."

Lawmakers hope to bring up drilling this fall

There was little time to address the offshore drilling bill -- or anything else -- in Washington during the past few weeks as lawmakers frantically worked out a debt limit deal to keep the nation from defaulting on its loans. Now that that debate has ended, Warner says he's optimistic about the potential for a deal in the near future.

"I think this issue will probably come back up in a bigger way," he says.

Congress is gone for most of August, and the House majority plans to move forward with a revenue sharing bill for oil and gas drilling when they return in the fall. Whether they can convince the Democratic controlled Senate to steer extra money to Virginia remains to be seen.

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