Time for Virginia to Drill, Baby, Drill

With the commonwealth's finances at sea, why not put its people to work out there too?

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By Peter Roff, Thomas Jefferson Street blog

The ongoing economic crisis has states scrambling for new sources of revenue to fill the holes in their annual budgets. Spending cuts, while popular in the abstract, are almost always unpopular among the constituents and interests groups whose spending it is that is being cut. Many state legislators are equally unwilling to propose tax increases, especially in recessionary times.

Nevertheless, state governments must have the money to run, leaving governors and legislators the responsibility to find creative ways to pay for things. Enter William Howell, speaker of Virginia's House of Delegates, who is asking the Obama administration to open an area miles off Virginia's coastline to oil and natural gas exploration by 2011.

U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar opposes new offshore exploration, as do a number of so-called environmental groups—but they may find their protestations eclipsed by economic and energy realities. The Interior Department's Minerals Management Service estimates the area Howell and other Virginia lawmakers ask be opened for exploration—some 50 miles out into the Atlantic—could contain 130 million barrels of oil and 1.14 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.

"Developing these [energy] resources would create thousands of new jobs in our commonwealth, arriving at the right time to assist in lifting our workers, families, and communities out of this economic recession," Howell says.

If Howell is successful in his push to bring deepwater energy exploration to the waters off Virginia, an idea that has the full support of Virginia's Republican gubernatorial nominee Robert McDonnell as well as the limited backing of Democratic nominee Creigh Deeds, look for his efforts to be replicated in the other states on America's Atlantic coast. There is just too much money at stake for them to continue to say "No" to this idea whose time, apparently, has come.

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