Greasy Money

posted by / News / January 7, 2009

Seven days. That’s all the time you have left to comment about oil exploration off the coast of Virginia. With the 2.9 million acres in question running virtually border-to-border, it’s a decision that doesn’t only affect “the Old Dominion” but the whole Mid-Atlantic. And Virginia’s just the first in line. With many states like California facing budget crises, legislators see revenues from offshore leases as a possible solution. Soon, we could have rigs up and down the coast, bleeding pollutants and standing ready like bowling pins for the next major hurricane, making sure no tropical system can swoop north without leaving a least a little bit of damage. Killing sea life. Tarnishing habitats. Hurting human beings. And if those aren’t issues you’re concerned about, then let’s talk in terms that everybody can appreciate: money.

Every coastal resident – fishermen and business owners, realty companies and waitresses, the school teachers and sanitation workers — depends on a healthy beach environment for a healthy economy. In fact, in some places, it’s the sole means of income. Hell, nearly every job I’ve ever had was funded by the beach. The newspapers I delivered (late) every morning to people who wanted to live by a pristine shoreline. The dishes I scrubbed for sloppy tourists. The drinks I served for even sloppier ones. The tables I bussed. Plates I delivered. These days it’s the stories I ruin-to-order. All {{{100}}}% driven by people who will pay money to play in the ocean, unknowingly spreading their wealth out to all sorts of American industries, from clothing companies to magazine printers to plate makers to chicken nugget delivery boys. I’m only one person. Add up the whole spiderweb of affected businesses and the result is billions of dollars tied back to the ocean per coastal state.

Just how much? Well, let’s take a look. Below is just a quick list pirated on-line per-state:

New Jersey: “Coastal tourism comprises more than half of New Jersey’s $27.7 billion tourism industry . . .and supports nearly 500,000 jobs while indirectly generating $16.6 billion in wages and $5.5 billion in state tax revenue.”

Florida: “The state had 75.6 million visitors in 2002, with beaches being the number one tourist attraction. Beach tourism generates about $15 billion a year to the state’s economy.”

California: “Users of California beaches spent over $61 billion in 2001, of which approximately 36% was spent by out of state visitors. Additionally, California’s beaches generate over $15 billion annually in tax revenue.”

South Carolina: “Visitor spending on travel and tourism in 1999 was well over $8.8 billion, with $6.6 billion coming from out-of-state and international visitors. In 1998, coastal tourism had a statewide economic impact that totaled $7.5 billion in expenditures and output. South Carolina beaches generate $1.54 billion in wages and earnings.”

North Carolina: “In 2002, the 8 counties directly bordering the Atlantic Ocean contributed $15.226 billion in tourism revenues of which approximately $12.538 billion is directly generated from the beaches.”

Now those aren’t quotes offered by {{{Sierra}}} Club, Surfrider or some other left-wing dune-hugging website. They’re ripped straight from The Marlow Co., a consulting group that specializes in beach nourishment. (What we dune-huggers call ‘evildoers.’) And those numbers are also at least six years old. So, between shouting ‘drill, baby, drill!,’ try to remember that though we can’t guarantee even a drop of newfound oil will stay in the US — we already export 268 million gallons annually to other countries who’ll pay more — all those god-fearing, American jobs and income will certainly suffer if there’s a spill. Or even if water quality just degenerates over time (see: Galveston). Surely, if we’re willing to risk such a huge economic engine in the midst of the worst financial crisis since the Depression – in a time where jobs are drying up like Sun Cure in the Sahara – the potential income for states {{{leasing}}} coastal acreage must be beyond comprehension, right?

Not exactly. Acccording to the Minerals Management Service, from 1954 to 2004, the federal government’s received roughly $157 billion dollars from the offshore continental shelf – just over $3 billion a year. (Note: in 1995, California’s beaches alone contributed $73 billion to the national economy.)And the states get an even smaller fraction: in 2005 Louisiana got $40 million while, 2004 saw California take $28.9 million and Texas received more than $15 million.

That’s million. With an ‘m’. From regions with way more potential than Virginia, which they say may –MAY — contain 130 million barrels. (Otherwise known as two weeks of American consumption.) But where tourists definitely puked up ${{{900}}} million bucks in 2007 alone and the beach is responsible for a total of $15 billion – with a ‘b’ – annually. And that’s just one of four pieces of coast that’s risking catastrophe with this single {{{lease}}}.

From the real estate bubble to the financial melt down, all we’ve heard the past 12 months is the government keeps “putting Wall Street ahead of Main Street.” Yet, here we are again willingly handing a golden goose to the most profitable companies on the whole planet and asking Joe the Bartender and Marge the Beach Vendor to foot the bill. Yes, I know …I know: I’m not considering the potential income in terms of oil rig manufacturing, and jobs, and ports, and all that mess. But the petroleum industry isn’t the one hurting financially right now. It’s the average, middle-class American, especially in beach towns where every dollar’s connected to the next guy being able to pay his bills. Towns where the building bust has left bank accounts in shambles. And where tourism-fueled businesses fear the worst is yet to come.

You know what’s even scarier? It took me less than hour to get the preceding numbers. A Google here. A Google there. Done. If an idiot like me can get the hard facts, so can our lawmakers. Which – besides the enormous amount of petroleum industry campaign contributions – leaves only one reason for why they don’t say no to offshore drilling right now: they don’t care. And why don’t they care? Because wedon’t care.

So start caring. First, tell the MMS no to keep Mid-Atlantic beaches clean and profitable forever. Tell your Senators, State Reps and Governors that now’s not the time to risk our evergreen coastal economies for finite energy source. And tell your friends to do the same. Then go to Surf-First after your next session and tell them everything they need to know to help keep oil rigs off our coast — and tar off our beaches — forever.

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