In February 2008, the government issued 487 oil leases for drilling in the Chukchi Sea, near Alaska. Environmental groups resorted to the National Environmental Policy Act and the Endangered Species Act to ensnarl all 487 leases in court challenges. Even once past a court challenge, environmental groups can resort to other legal and bureaucratic roadblocks to hold off the production of oil.
The bill the other night that Democrats, with a wink to environmentalists, approved and Republicans voted against needs provisions to allow drilling to proceed now. Very simply, the bill should have included a provision that would gather up all lawsuits challenging all drilling and would deposit them into one legal case to be argued before one court. Provisions have been resorted to in the past to get on with oil production during times of emergency. In 1973, when faced with an international oil embargo, Congress simply waived environmental laws to allow construction of the trans-Alaska pipeline. Similar ingenuity can be employed today. Speaker Pelosi has been clever in thwarting the electorate's desire for offshore drilling; some 70-80 percent favor it. Perhaps the Republicans and a few Democratic allies can show similar cleverness in beginning drilling now.