Candidates come out against oil drilling
Most isle Democrats oppose legislation that would allow offshore drilling
As lawmakers on Capitol Hill prepare for negotiations on competing proposals to expand domestic offshore oil and gas drilling, most Democrats running to replace Rep. Ed Case in the U.S. House say they would not support the lower chamber's version of the bill.
"Clearly, H.R. 4761 is a knee-jerk solution that endangers the environment, namely coastal life, and lives of brave men and women working on the drilling rigs," said Democrat Hanalei Aipoalani, a former biotech company executive. The bill "compromises the necessary national shift away from fossil fuel dependency for oil and gas to cleaner sources of alternative energy, and jeopardizes the respective coastal economies."
Candidates from both parties stressed the need to develop alternative energy sources.
"While I strongly support a move toward alternative energy, the reality is that it may be decades before most of our energy comes from those other sources," said state Sen. Bob Hogue (R, Kaneohe-Kailua). "This bill would enhance our national energy security as we eventually move toward alternative energy sources."
Comments were in response to an e-mail survey by the Star-Bulletin, which asked congressional candidates: "Do you support the House version of the (offshore drilling) bill?"
Known as the Deep Ocean Energy Resources Act, H.R. 4761 would, among other things, lift a drilling moratorium that has been in place for most waters other than the western Gulf of Mexico from New England to Alaska. Drilling still would be banned within 50 miles of shore, and states could extend the ban to 100 miles but would have to renew protection every five years. A competing Senate proposal (S. 3711) would open 8.3 million acres in the east-central Gulf of Mexico that have been off limits. Drilling moratorium areas are unaffected.
U.S. Rep. Neil Abercrombie, who cosponsored the House legislation, said the measure generates federal dollars for investment in alternative energy and could yield vital natural gas resources.
Abercrombie and U.S. Sen. Dan Inouye supported the proposals in their respective houses while their counterparts, Case and U.S. Sen. Dan Akaka -- whom Case is challenging in next month's primary -- voted against them.
"Both ... raise serious environmental concerns," said Sen. Clayton Hee (D, Kahuku-Kaneohe). "If I had to choose between the two versions, I would choose the Senate bill, because it offers slightly more protection to the outer continental shelf."
Sen. Gary Hooser and Rep. Brian Schatz, both rated highly by the Hawaii Sierra Club for their environmental records, also were critical.
"I don't support the House or the Senate version of this bill, because it's not right to continue our addiction to fossil fuels," said Schatz (D, Makiki-Tantalus). "Making dwindling oil supplies more available is a wrongheaded approach. Our addiction to oil is causing global warming, undermining our economy and funding the terrorists."
Added Hooser (D, Kauai-Niihau): "This is just another in a series of Republican bills that would only line the pockets of companies like Exxon Mobil and Halliburton. H.R.4761 will only perpetuate our dependence on non-renewal fossil fuels, at the expense of U.S. consumers and the environment."
Former state Sen. Matt Matsunaga criticized what he called the "dig and drill" approach.
"While our nation's dependence on foreign oil has led us into too many conflicts abroad and the loss of too many innocent lives, the way out is not to dig and drill on our soil," he said. "Instead, we need to move to the future and aggressively develop renewable energy-ethanol, biodiesel, hydrogen, wind, solar and ocean energy."
Former Lt. Gov. Mazie Hirono also opposed the House bill, saying it "opens our coastal waters nationwide to the dirtiest, least effective, and most destructive form of energy production. It short-changes Americans by increasing our reliance on oil while doing nothing to lower today's out of control gas prices or protect the environment."
State Sen. Colleen Hanabusa (D, Nanakuli-Makua) noted that the proposals have advanced despite the oil and gas industry already having access to most of the known resources in U.S. waters.
"I do not support the House version because it doesn't address our fundamental problem of overconsumption of a nonrenewable energy resource, and more drilling won't help," she said.
And state Sen. Ron Menor, who took on oil companies through his support for the now-suspended gasoline price cap law, said he also had major concerns about the proposals' environmental impacts.
"They would waive environmental laws for drilling in offshore and onshore areas, lift moratoriums on drilling off the west and east coasts, and try to force more drilling near the coasts of anti-drilling states," said Menor (D, Mililani). "The effects could be disastrous and irreversible."
Republican candidate Quentin Kawananakoa said he would oppose a "blanket lifting" of existing drilling moratoriums in the Gulf region.
"This issue must be worked out with the Department of Interior and the coastal states before I would support lifting the moratorium on drilling," said Kawananakoa, former state House minority leader. "My emphasis on energy will continue to look into alternative energy sources for Hawaii."
And City Councilman Nestor Garcia, a Democrat, stressed the need for a balanced approach that would include a ban on drilling within 50 miles of the shoreline with no "opt out" provision for any state.
"I am opposed to allowing oil and gas exploration and development in our most environmentally precious and sensitive areas, such as the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve," Garcia said. "But I also understand that concern must be balanced against our need to reduce dependence on imported fuel through increased domestic production."
For the e-mail survey, candidates were given 48 hours to respond and were asked to limit answers to no more than 175 words.
Democratic candidate Joe Zuiker did not reply within the allotted deadline. Robert Wilcox IV, the sole nonpartisan candidate in the 2nd Congressional District race, has not returned messages to the Star-Bulletin seeking his participation.