Inaction by Congress will allow the 27-year moratorium on new offshore oil drilling to expire on October 1. Unbelievably, even that piece of bad news may not be the worst development for our coasts. Today we learned that Senator Jim DeMint of South Carolina intends to push for adoption this week of his bill, S. 3636, called the “Drill Now Act of 2008” (we’re not making this up).

The bill would have the effect of rapidly accelerating expansion of offshore drilling on all parts of the Outer Continental Shelf, including the entire Pacific and Atlantic coastlines, as well as those portions of the Eastern Gulf of Mexico now protected until 2022 by the Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act of 2006 (GOMESA 06). GOMESA represents a compromise in which Florida gave up 8.2 million acres of previously-protected waters to drilling through past authorizing legislation enacted in 2006.

Any state that had previously been protected by the annual congressional OCS moratorium could be opened to drilling before 2012, through a waiver of the usual congressional review of a new Five-Year Leasing Program. S. 3646 would also attempt to bribe coastal states into accepting offshore drilling with a share of federal revenues from such drilling, while severely weakening the ability of coastal states and impacted third-party interveners to engage in legitimate litigation to protect their interests as offshore drilling goes forward. The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the Coastal Zone Management Act (CZMA), the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA), and the Endangered Species Act (ESA) would all be waived by this provision. You might ask yourself, if offshore oil drilling is as environmentally benign as its supporters claim, why do they need to suspend environmental laws?

Please contact your senators and ask them to oppose this legislation.