Landrieu Blocks OMB Nomination Over Drilling Moratorium

| Fri Sep. 24, 2010 1:55 PM EDT

The oil and gas industry has made no secret of its opposition to the Obama administration's temporary moratorium on new deepwater drilling. Now, Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) has pledged to block the nomination of Jack Lew to serve as director of the Office of Management and Budget until the moratorium is lifted.

"Although Mr. Lew clearly possesses the expertise necessary to serve as one of the President's most important economic advisors, I found that he lacked sufficient concern for the host of economic challenges confronting the Gulf Coast," Sen. Landrieu wrote in a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid on Thursday. "The fact that the most acute of these economic challenges, the moratorium, results from a direct (and reversible) federal action only serves to harden my stance on Mr. Lew's nomination. I cannot support further action on Mr. Lew's nomination to be a key economic advisor to the President until I am convinced that the President and his Administration understand the detrimental impacts that the actual and de facto moratoria continue to have on the Gulf Coast."

The moratorium has been the subject of an ongoing legal battle, and though it has now been rejected in multiple courts, uncertainty over the issue has essentially put all new drilling on hold. The initial moratorium is set to expire at the end of November, but it's not clear how the administration will proceed at that point.

But despite all the dire predictions, the moratorium's impact on the Gulf Coast economy has been less than expected. The administration issued a report that found that the loss of jobs due to the drilling freeze was actually much lower than the government's initial predictions; though the adminstration had initially estimated that 23,000 jobs could be lost, the number of affected workers is actually more like 8,000 to 12,000, according to the report.

That's not to say that 12,000 lost jobs isn't a significant figure, especially to those who've lost them. But moratorium opponents often fail to mention all the jobs lost in tourism and fishing industries thanks to the spill—or that the moratorium is a temporary one, designed to provide assurances that the industry can and is operating safely. And it's not like those impacted by the moratorium aren’t being compensated as well; BP created a separate $100 million fund for those workers.

In short, the problem isn't the moratorium; it's the spill that necessitated it. Nor is Lew the problem. And the idea that one senator with a bone to pick on an unrelated issue can hold up Lew—who won approval yesterday in the Senate Budget Committee by a 22-1 vote and last week in the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee by a 9-0 vote (a rare show of bipartisan support)—is frankly absurd.

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