Friday, September 30, 2005

The Black Dog Alibi

alibi n. an excuse used by a person accused or suspected of a crime. In the original Latin it means "in another place," which has to be the ultimate alibi.
There's an old court house joke about the standard alibi defense to a reckless driving charge. "I wasn't driving that car. And if I was driving, I swerved to avoid a little black dog that ran out in front of me."

Local congressman Jeff Miller (R-Chumukla) was named nearly two weeks ago by the St. Petersburg Sun-Sentinel's Washington D.C. bureau chief Tamara Lytle as one of three Republican congressmen working on draft language (to be slipped into the mammoth combined federal energy and budget bill in a few weeks) that would allow oil and gas drilling off Florida's Gulf coast. She wrote:
The historic wall of solidarity among Florida lawmakers against oil and gas drilling in the eastern Gulf of Mexico is crumbling amid fears of rising energy prices.

When Congress begins work next month on a large tax and budget bill, it might include a provision allowing drilling in part of the eastern Gulf.

Instead of being blocked by Florida lawmakers, as efforts have been for years, the proposal may well be drafted by three of them: Rep. Cliff Stearns, R-Ocala; Rep. Michael Bilirakis, R-Tarpon Springs; and Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Chumuckla [emphasis added].
Almost immediately, the superb St. Petersburg Times editorialized against the move, noting that these Three Oily Amigos were pushing a proposal that would allow drilling rigs within 100 to 120 miles of the coast.
Now there is a moratorium on drilling in most of the eastern gulf. The only part of the outer continental shelf being considered for exploration is Area 181 ... . Any so-called compromise to establish a 100-mile limit would actually move oil rigs closer to our beaches."
In fact, as Interstate4 Jamming correctly noted, drilling in the L-shaped Area 181 would occur directly south of Pensacola Beach by only 30 miles.

The following week, as we noted here, the Miami Herald factually reported, "several House members from Florida [including Northwest Florida's Jeff Miller] have agreed to endorse... the creation of 'gas only' leases in the long-coveted region known as the Destin Dome, off the coast of Fort Walton Beach, and other natural gas reserves 30 miles off the Pensacola coast."

As the U.S. Minerals Management engineers acknowledged at local meetings and in thick written analyses distributed during the last great fight over Gulf drilling, an even greater environmental threat than drilling platforms would be the necessary pipelines stretched along the shallow shore to carry petroleum to Mobile and Tampa Bay terminals.

Northwest Congressman Jeff Miller doubtless knows that his career will be over the moment the first tar ball bearing his fingerprints washes up on our "sugar white" sandy beaches. So, he's probably been counting on constituents not noticing. After all, a federal energy or budget bill, each of which typically runs to thousands of pages, is the perfect place to hide one's dirty work.

But Miller's strategem always was risky. It depended on a complaisant media as well as 1st District constituents staying asleep. Both were good bets, but no sure thing. So, he needed a fall-back defense just in case he was caught.

When the St. Petersburg paper's capital bureau reporter blew the whistle, it was time for Plan B: cook up a couple of alibis. Today, the outlines of that alibi became apparent: Jeff Miller will claim he's really defending the Gulf of Mexico against drilling.

And if you don't buy that, would you believe he was at lunch when all the bad things happened?

The story reads like a Grimm fairy tale. Yesterday, two congressman from the very distant states of Pennslvania and Hawaii who serve on the same committee with Miller "offered a radical amendment" to the energy-budget bill: "Remove, entirely, all federal bans on natural gas drilling to allow rigs within just a few miles of the U.S. coast."

Importantly, we are told "the amendment was expected" but "it also was expected to fail." As Wes Allison of the SPT coyly describes it, "But sometimes things happen."

Committee chairman Richard Pombo, a senior Republican leader from California who is said to have 'a fiercely honed instinct to rule' --
"declared a brief recess, and the committee members scurried across Independence Avenue to the Capitol to vote. When they returned a half hour later to resume the hearing, fewer than half of [the] committee's 49 members were there. It was lunchtime, and some apparently had stopped for a bite.

Pombo called for the vote on the Peterson-Abercrombie amendment anyway. To his surprise, a majority said "Aye."

Pombo looked around. His staff looked around. No one asked for a roll call to verify the vote. Suddenly the Peterson-Abercrombie amendment had been adopted, to be rolled into a larger energy bill expected to reach the House floor next week.
Get it? It isn't my fault -- I was at lunch when those two dogs ran out into the road.

Dutifully compliant stenographers of the press -- most of whom weren't even there to witness it -- today are serving up this ridiculous alibi to anyone who will listen. Here are just three examples:
  • Bill Kaczor, the Pensacola area AP correspondent (who's usually not so credulous as this) leads the pack with a Miller quote about how shocked (shocked!) he is: "Miller said he hoped talks with Pombo and other House leaders would resolve the issue and expects other affected coastal states to join Florida in opposing it."

  • Larry Lipman of the Palm Beach Post is right behind: "Twenty-two of Florida's 23 House members sent a letter to House Resources Committee Chairman Richard W. Pombo, R-Calif., a day after his committee adopted the measure as part of a broader bill that would also allow oil drilling in a large portion of the eastern Gulf of Mexico. * * * In the letter... the Florida lawmakers called the amendment a "reckless approach... (that) poses a catastrophic risk which cannot stand. Under no circumstances can we support legislation that includes this devastating amendment or similar language."

  • Larry Wheeler of Gannett's D.C. Bureau did no better. In his telling of the farce, "The speed and success of the legislation [i.e. the lunchtime amendment] stunned some Florida lawmakers."
Only Leslie Conn of the Miami Herald bothered to mention that Miller all along has been angling for a way to allow drilling -- and the necessary pipelines -- offshore from Pensacola Beach.

Today's opinion page in USA Today Florida Today gets it right: the whole charade is "rubbish." The truth is --
"Oil company opportunists and their sycophant supporters in Congress aren't missing a minute in their race to open vast areas of the nation's waters to gas and oil drilling.

* * *
That's why Florida Sens. Mel Martinez, R-Orlando, and Bill Nelson, D-Melbourne, are absolutely right in opposing this destructive legislation, designed only to boost the already huge profits of the oil and gas industries.

The real solution is a combination of tough vehicle-fuel efficiency, energy conservation, and incentives for alternative technologies.

Until that's done, the U.S. will never be energy independent, and Florida's precious coastlines will be in grave jeopardy.
In the meantime, fairy tale alibis about "surprise" amendments and over-long "lunches" aren't any more convincing than the little black dog defense in court.

1 comment:

Larry C. said...

Miller is for Miller. What else can you expect? In politics an alibi is known as "Cover". Politicians are always trying to get Cover by voting on both sides of every issue so no one knows where they really stand.