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Lujan to Defend Offshore Oil Drilling as Vital

Times Staff Writer

In a defiant response to a proposed congressional ban on offshore drilling, Secretary of the Interior Manuel Lujan Jr. intends to herald offshore oil as the solution to the nation’s energy needs and to accuse drilling opponents of seeking to “bury our heads in the sands of our own ignorance,” according to the text of a Lujan speech to be delivered today.

Warning that the nation’s appetite for energy is matched only by its apparent hostility toward future oil exploration, Lujan will declare: “The current situation is a time bomb waiting to explode.”

The strongly worded remarks, prepared for a major address on oil policy that Lujan plans to give in Long Beach, Calif., represent the Bush Administration’s first concerted effort to staunch the wave of anti-drilling sentiment produced by the recent rash of oil spills. A copy of the speech was made available to The Times.

With the Senate apparently prepared to follow the House in putting much of the nation’s coastline off limits to drilling for at least a year, the speech marks an aggressive attempt by the Administration to restore support for an energy policy that views offshore oil as a vital resource.

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“Our answer to this current energy crisis lies just several miles off our shores and in Alaska,” Lujan will declare.

While the address reiterates President Bush’s commitment not to pursue oil development at the expense of the environment, its tone is reminiscent of the strong advocacy of offshore drilling of Interior secretaries in the Ronald Reagan Administration.

As such, it provides the clearest indication to date that the Bush Administration--despite the appointment of a task force to review controversial drilling proposals--has no intention of supporting sweeping changes in the nation’s drilling plans.

Bowing to environmental concerns, Lujan plans to acknowledge publicly today that he is considering barring oil tankers from most of the nation’s ports, requiring them instead to unload their cargoes at offshore “super ports” from which oil would be pumped inland by undersea pipeline.

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The plan, first disclosed by The Times, reflects the disproportionate tanker role in oil spills.

One such deep-water port is already in place off the Louisiana coast, and Lujan plans to suggest today that similar structures could “greatly reduce” the risks of collision and oil spills in Los Angeles, Houston, Philadelphia and Valdez, Alaska.

At the same time, Lujan’s speech scorns the “clamor” of opposition to offshore drilling and challenges as “unfounded” the view that drilling programs present unacceptable environmental risks.

“By imposing these moratoria,” Lujan will declare, “the Congress is saying that we should blindly reject even the possibilities before us, burying our heads in the sands of our ignorance.”

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White House Approval

A senior aide to Lujan said that department officials expect the address, which has been approved by the White House, to draw a strong negative reaction from the environmental community. But with control of the debate over oil exploration slipping beyond the Administration’s grasp, he said, “Lujan had to make a sound loud enough to shake things up.”

The near-collapse of pro-drilling forces in the House last week forced the Administration to abandon a planned attempt to block the drilling moratorium proposal on the House floor.

Among the salvos in his counteroffensive today, Lujan plans to include a conciliatory gesture, saying that he appreciates “the sincerity and the well-meaning intentions of all those who are concerned with the environmental impact of drilling . . . .”

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Lujan will argue that the nation’s growing appetite for imported oil makes it necessary for the United States to develop new offshore oil resources if it is to avoid becoming even more dependent on foreign oil.

Economic Future

“We cannot avoid the reality that these stark facts present,” Lujan will say. “Our national security and our economic future are dependent upon the decisions we make about our nation’s energy policy. . . .

“Time is running out,” he will say, “and we need to have a firm and predictable outer continental shelf leasing program if we are going to successfully meet this challenge.”

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In the speech, Lujan also plans to redouble his advocacy of Administration plans to drill for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, where scheduled oil exploration has come under renewed controversy in the wake of the Exxon Valdez oil spill in March.

“The choice we face is not between oil or the environment,” Lujan will say. “It is a choice between utilizing our vast domestic energy resources in an environmentally sound manner or holding our nation’s energy hostage to a volatile and unpredictable world.”


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