Congress must make protecting Gulf a priority

To quote the Rolling Stones, “You don’t have to mean it, you just got to say it.”

These are the lines that leapt to mind the moment President Bush said in his State of the Union speech, “America is addicted to oil.” How you interpret the statement from there depends more on your political leanings than anything else.

Among the true believers I imagine there was a bit of upset, followed immediately by a refastening of the lockstep: “All right, let’s see where Bush is headed with this.” Conversely, a collective “duh” was exhaled by anyone who has listened, skeptically, to enough of Bush’s prior speeches to be familiar with his affinity for speaking in truisms, and by those who are not only aware of this addiction but gleefully working to exacerbate it.

Before I go on, a word about addicts: Anyone who has ever known an addict can testify to the incomparable ingenuity and vigor a man will summon to acquire whatever spectral smack he might be withdrawing from. There is no limit to the inspired schemes he will agree to in pursuit of his compulsion – but the one scenario that will never occur to him is the one in which he simply gives it up.

That being said, it came as no surprise when the president’s earnest declaration on Jan. 31 was followed the next morning by a proposal from the Department of the Interior that the United States open up the eastern expanse of the Gulf of Mexico – coming within 100 miles of Florida’s coast – to oil and gas drilling. I love the use of this word, by the way: proposal. Like it’s an idea they’re just tossing out there, as opposed to the likely reality in which all the contracts have already been drawn up, and now it’s just a matter of waiting for the congressional green light.

So there it is: The White House’s proposal for dealing with our addiction to oil is to drill for more oil. Well, it will at least get rid of the delirium tremors – I’ll give them that.

Poor Sen. Mel Martinez. When he was wooed into voting his approval for drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) in 2005, the White House “assured” him that the nix on drilling near Florida’s own ecological treasure chest would be preserved until 2012. Is anything more adorable than this sort of naivete?

Now, Martinez is doing his best to placate the beast, which involves “insisting” on a 150-mile no-drill zone off Florida’s shores. Good luck with that.

Florida’s other senator, Bill Nelson, who voted against drilling in ANWR, turns out to have thrown an interesting wrench into the works, having reached an agreement with Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton in 2001 regarding an area referred to as tract 181, which radiates from the Tampa Bay area and extends 213 miles off of Florida’s west coast. The agreement precludes oil and gas drilling in the region and has subsequently led to all sorts of legislative insanity, including a barely foiled attempt by Norton in July 2005 to redraw the eastern boundaries of Louisiana’s “coastal waters.” This redrawing would bring the state to a degree that could actually claim half of tract 181. This is how crazy oil makes people: They are actually trying to gerrymander open water.Part of what’s so doomed about this scenario from the get-go is that if this drilling goes through, Florida’s tourism industry will be impacted in even the best-case scenario (meaning we manage to avoid another stormapalooza like that of 2005). People go out in those waters to see exactly one thing: nothing. Nothing above the water line, anyway, besides open sky. Once the horizon is dotted with rigs, the spell will be broken.

And keep in mind that a best-case scenario is exactly that – the very best case.

Meteorologists across the board agree: We’re in for a nasty couple of decades in which hurricane activity is only predicted to worsen. (The Bush administration is unlikely to contradict this, as this “natural cycle” has been their stock retort to environmentalist claims that 2005’s massacre is evidence of global warming/climate change.) Even the safest oil rigs in the world aren’t guaranteed to withstand a Category 5 hurricane, let alone five of them in one season.

Remember how the frustration of post-hurricane rebuilding in Central Florida kept multiplying exponentially each time a new hurricane swept through about every three weeks or so? Imagine a similar situation with the addition of billions of barrels of raw crude chemically suffocating miles and miles of pristine, irreplaceable marine life.

Aside from the commercial interest in preserving Florida’s tourism industry, it’s also worth noting that undamaged nature has intrinsic value. Even if there were no money to be made off it, the beaches and Gulf would be worth preserving simply because they are.

For how many things can that still be said?

Ryan McGeeney is a senior majoring in political science.