Mass. Democrat pushes green bills

WASHINGTON — When Louisiana members of the U.S. House Natural Resources Committee make their pitches in support of expanding oil and gas drilling and the petroleum industry, they mainly run into one man opposing them: U.S. Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass.

Markey, the torchbearer in Congress for the environmental movement, uses his position as the committee’s most veteran Democrat to bash “big oil” and oppose drilling at every turn.

Markey is known for his floor speeches criticizing the industry and its influence over Republicans in Congress. He recently took to the floor of the U.S. House with a chart featuring a large picture of an oil rig on top of a mock-up of a Medicare card.

“The Republicans are building a pipeline into the pocketbooks of our seniors so they can pump them dry,” Markey recently shouted during an address opposing expansion of offshore drilling. “No money for Medicare, but plenty of breaks for the oil companies.”

On the committee, rebutting Markey becomes a task for two Louisiana Republicans, Rep. John Fleming, R-Minden, and U.S. Rep. Jeff Landry, R-New Iberia. Though regularly at odds with Markey, Landry said he respects him.

“His passion equates to the same passion that I share as well,” Landry said. “We’re passionate for the opposite reasons.

“I certainly take every opportunity I can to point out the weaknesses in his arguments,” Landry added. “You can respect it, that’s what this country is all about.”

Markey has painted his bull’s-eye on BP and offshore drilling after the company’s Deepwater Horizon disaster last year that resulted in 11 men being killed and 4.9 million barrels of oil being discharged into the Gulf of Mexico.

The 65-year-old congressman made the official request that BP put a live camera focused on the spewing oil well at the bottom of the ocean that became a national and continuous vision of oil jetting from the wild well on live TV, accentuating the fallout from the disaster.

With a wry wit and penchant for quick quips, Markey balked when BP at one point intended to block the control structure spewing the oil with golf balls and shredded tires in order to plug the leak.

“I expected MIT and got the PGA,” Markey said.

Markey, an attorney and son of a milk truck driver, always has been a foe of offshore drilling, but he ratcheted up his diatribes after the BP catastrophe.

When the committee recently approved three bills that would expand U.S. offshore drilling, Markey called the move premature, saying that the drilling bills represented “speed over safety.” Markey noted that the Republican-backed drilling bills cleared the committee while legislation to improve the safety of deepwater drilling had not yet reached President Barack Obama’s desk.

“We need a revision of the safety standards in the oil industry, not revisionist history that effectively erases the disaster in the Gulf,” Markey said at the time.

While bashing oil-based energy, Markey has thrust himself into the middle of the natural gas versus green energy debate now gaining traction in Congress, Fleming said.

Republicans, such as Fleming, have been pointing to the failed Solyndra solar panel company in California that went bankrupt after a $535 million loan from the Obama administration as an example of the failed green energy movement.

During recent debate over cutting a federal program to loan money to companies to manufacture more fuel-efficient cars, Markey delivered an argument on the floor of the House criticizing oil companies for contributing to national disasters. Big oil opposes fuel-efficient cars, Markey argued, which allows for more pollution in the air that hurts climate change that fuels natural disasters.

“He makes those connections all the time,” Fleming said. “When there is a hurricane, it’s because of the oil companies; if it’s hot, it’s their fault; if it’s cold, it’s their fault. No matter what happens, it’s their fault.”

Markey has served in Congress for 35 years and Fleming sees him as the point man in Congress for the green movement, which Fleming said has been shown to be wasteful.

“I don’t know how sincere it is, whether it’s political, but he’s got a big stake in this, years of his reputation,” Fleming said. “Bottom line, it’s not economical, it’s become less cost-effective rather than more, in the same period that we’re finding more natural gas, more oil and better ways and cheaper ways to get it.”

Markey declined comment for this report.

Markey will be up to bat twice this week as the committee is scheduled to meet on Wednesday about the effects of last year’s deepwater drilling moratorium in the Gulf of Mexico. On Thursday, investigators from the U.S. Interior Department are expected to testify over their recent report on the Deepwater Horizon disaster.

Landry likes to criticize the Democrats on the committee for not visiting oil rigs. Markey has gone to some areas affected by the oil spill to meet with fisherman and oil industry workers. Landry wants him on a rig.

“If he ever came up to me and said he wanted to come out there and see, I’d jump through hoops to get him there,” Landry said. “And guarantee his safety.”