Attempted robbery is an exact description of what took place in the United States Senate last Wednesday. By a vote of 50-35 the lawmakers took a resource that belongs to the whole country and bestowed it on three states. The resource was our oil-rich submerged coastal lands; the booty was large enough to make the annual Rivers and Harbors pork barrel look like a teacup.
Ownership of these off-shore lands is a hot issue because they hold an estimated forty billion dollars worth of oil. So when Secretary of the Interior Ickes first accepted an application for a federal oil lease off-shore California in 1936, he opened a sixteen year legal battle for control of this oil. Ten years later President Truman wisely vetoed the first Congressional attempt to give away the land. Finally, the Supreme Court decided in 1947 that the Federal government had paramount rights in this off-shore area.
Even after the Court's decision a series of compromise bills were offered to placate Congress and clear the way for further oil exploration and development. The O'Mahoney-Hill proposals for example allow for state-federal lease decisions within the three mile limit, and grant the states 37 1/2% of realized oil revenue from this area. What is more important, federal revenue from the oil would be used for a program of aid to education through grants to all the states--much as the sale of public land was originally used to support colleges. Since the states had never held title to this coastal land anyway, the O'Mahoney-Hill plan was a generous settlement; the Senate rejected it 47-36 and gave ownership away to the states.
And to show the atmosphere in which this irresponsible decision was made, two oil lobbyists were actually present on the Senate floor during debate. The lobbyists coached Florida's Senator Spessard Holland in his fight for the state grab.
Fortunately, however, President Truman is expected to veto this Big Steal, just as he did in 1946. But this saving grace makes the Senate's performance no less disgusting.