WASHINGTON -- Responding to President Obama's call in the American Jobs Act for increased infrastructure spending, House Republicans are offering up a favorite standby: offshore drilling.
"There are some initiatives, and you may see one as early as next week," Rep. Steven LaTourette (R-Ohio) told HuffPost on Monday after a speech at the Association of State Dam Safety Officials, "that talk about using revenues from the offshore leasing program to go into dam safety, road building and water infrastructure."
"You can bond that money and come up with about $50 billion a year, which you would divide between highways and water, and it would beat the pants off what we're spending today," added LaTourette, who is vice-chair of the House Appropriations Committee transportation panel.
A bill sponsored by Rep. Tim Murphy (R-Pa.) would invest proceeds from offshore oil and gas leases in programs to rebuild our shaky roads, bridges, dams and waterways. Another similar bill, sponsored by Rep. Shelly Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), was introduced last week. Either would likely face an uphill battle in the Democratic-controlled U.S. Senate, but they nonetheless provide House Republicans with an opportunity to sketch out their own alternative for infrastructure financing. Their vision includes more gas and more roads -- but also, environmentalists argue, more risk of oil spills.
Murphy's Infrastructure Jobs and Energy Independence Act has found several Democratic co-sponsors, including Tim Walz (Minn.) and Jim Costa (Calif.), a member of the Blue Dog Coalition. But its much-needed money for infrastructure, including recharging stations for electric cars, does little to placate environmental activists.
"Of course we support good roads," said Anna Gowan, an ocean advocate at the nonprofit group Oceana, "but not if it means sacrificing healthy oceans."
Gowan predicted that the Senate would serve as a "backstop" against the drilling bills. Still, she added, such efforts were "beyond reckless."
She also said that one of the bill's justifications, quickly creating jobs, is irrelevant given how long it would take to set up new offshore oil rigs. The bill expedites judicial review of court challenges. But the process of selling leases, along with issuing drilling, air and water permits, would all make for slow going.
"If I had to guess, it would be at least 5 or 10 years down the road before a drill hit the water," Gowan said.
LaTourette also told HuffPost that to fund improvements on critical structures like dams, the deficit reduction supercommittee would need to "go big" on curbing non-discretionary spending. He also said he was pessimistic about one of the president's favorite proposals for kickstarting road and bridge spending, a national infrastructure bank to be called the American Infrastructure Financing Authority.
LaTourette said an infrastructure bank is a "a non-starter."
Just a few months ago an infrastructure bank was seen by some as a bipartisan proposal. One Senate version found backing from Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas). But now Republicans are wary of the bank.
Obama's newly proposed bank would be overseen by a board of directors made up of seven voting members, no more than four of them from the president's party. But congressional Republicans say they are suspicious of the potential for partisan misuses of the bank's money. They also dislike the fact that AIFA's funds would be dispersed on the basis of merit -- which they say will simply mean given to the president's political allies -- and not necessarily doled out to all 50 states.