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Raymond J. Learsy

Raymond J. Learsy

Posted: July 15, 2008 08:16 AM

As Bush Lifts Restrictions on Offshore Drilling, We Need a TVA for Oil/Gas Production


In the depth of the depression, President Roosevelt, with gumption and imagination sought different solutions, different thinking to deal with the crippling economic conditions that had descended on the nation. He asked Congress to mandate the creation of "a corporation clothed with the power of government but possessed of the flexibility and initiative of private enterprise." On May 18, 1933 the Congress passed the TVA (Tennessee Valley Authority) Act to revitalize the economically stricken Tennessee Valley in areas of power generation, river navigation, flood control, reforestation and erosion control. Its success in all these areas was outstanding.

During the war years the TVA set upon perhaps the largest hydropower construction programs ever undertaken in the United States building 12 major hydroelectric plants to provide power to critical war industries.

To this day the TVA pursues an aggressive clean air program and is on track to meet its commitments to reduce sulfur dioxide emissions to 80-85 percent of 1977 levels by 2010. In this and in its many endeavors it has consistently and successfully aimed to set a standard for public responsibility against which private companies could be measured.

And now we have President Bush announcing that he has lifted the executive branch's restriction on drilling for oil and natural gas on the U.S. Outer Continental Shelf. A showdown with Congress is clearly inevitable given the opposition to offshore drilling and the partisan politics this issue has ignited.

Stepping aside from the pros and cons of the president's announcement, a new initiative along the lines of Roosevelt's TVA would go far toward smoothing the path toward creating a viable and ecologically safe program allowing access to this valuable and urgently needed national patrimony. The creation of a "National Oil/Gas Production Authority", with responsibility to explore and develop oil, gas and shale oil deposits on national lands and the Continental Shelf would be a boon to the nation.

It would allay immediately the palpable suspicion that President Bush's oil cronies would be the real beneficiaries from opening these territories to development rather then the nation at large. It would assure that this treasure remains in the public domain rather than appearing as further billions on the bottom line of oil company earnings.

And, as in one scenario, it could be achieved in a straight forward way by creating a Congress mandated entity charged with assembling a coterie of highly qualified and experienced oil hands having sense for public service. They could readily do much the same as most any oil company, subcontracting the necessary seismic work , and subsequently leasing or subcontracting oil platforms and crews to do the drilling. If successful in finding commercially viable reservoirs, storage and shipping facilities will come knocking at the door. Though oil platforms are currently in tight supply the imprimatur of a government entity with access to boundless acres along the Continental Shelf would have its own persuasive dynamic.

As presently constituted our oil/gas concession system is an abomination and has benefited virtually no one but the oil companies at the great expense to the nation as a whole. The oil companies, accessing the riches of America's resources have in effect become toll takers, offering the nation little in return from their bonanza other than ever higher dividends to their shareholders while millions of American will be freezing in their homes this winter barely able to meet their heating bills and families will be cutting back their food budgets to pay for the gas they need to go to work. This while the oil companies rake in ever more billions selling back to Americans their own national patrimony at rapacious prices. It must Stop! These resources belong to the people and must be developed for and on behalf of the people, with the people in mind first and foremost. We were able to achieve it brilliantly with the TVA. Norway, the third largest oil exporter in the world, has done it brilliantly with its National Oil Trust. The time for our "National Oil/Gas Production Authority" is today!